World’s new golfing prodigy “wants to play for Hong Kong”

Remember the Chinese American kids who won at Augusta last month? One of them – 11-year-old Lucy Li – has just qualified for the US Women’s Open at Pinehurst and will become the youngest ever qualifier to play in the June 19-22 tournament, beating Lexi Thompson’s record (who was 12 in 2007). What’s more, Li wants to play for Hong Kong, where her family is from.

AR-130809736According to the SCMP, Li was born in Santa Clara, lives in Redwood Shores, California, and holds a US passport, but her mother has a Hong Kong identity card and “the family has told [Hong Kong national team coach Brad] Schadewitz she wants to play for Hong Kong.”

For that to happen, residency would have to be established, but Li would be quite a catch. For the record, the two 12-year-olds to play in the US Women’s Open – Thompson and Morgan Pressel, now 19 and 25 respectively – have each won a major title. One 10-year-old, Beverly Klass, played in 1967, but that was before players had to qualify.

`In addition to winning the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta last month, Li already has an impressive pedigree.  Last summer,  as a 10-year-old, Li broke Michelle Wie’s record as the youngest match-play qualifier in US Women’s Amateur Public Links history. Two months later, she became the youngest ever qualifier for the US Women’s Amateur. In 2011, she won the Future Champions Golf (FCG)  World Championship, as well as the San Diego Junior Masters Championship and the Junior Golf Association of Northern California (JGANC) All-Star Championship. She also won a tournament in Hong Kong that year while visiting her grandfather.

Li's driver is taller than she is
Li’s driver is taller than she is

But unlike some golf prodigies, she wasn’t holding a club as soon as she could walk. She took diving lessons at Stanford University and was diving from the 10 m platform as a 4-year-old – despite not being able to swim at the time. Then came gymnastics and music, and it wasn’t until she was 7 that she first took up golf, swinging a club while watching her older brother Luke hit some balls at the driving range.  She showed so much promise that her parents roped in Jim McLean – former coach to Lexi Thompson. The rest, as they say, is history, but you can guarantee there are several more chapters (or volumes) waiting to be written.

2013 U.S. Women's Public LinksKorean-born NZ golfer Lydia Ko, already the world number 3, turned pro last year at the age of 16, so don’t expect Li to abandon the ranks for many more years yet. While amateur golfers can’t, of course, sign endorsement deals, many young golfers happily take free equipment and clothing from the major sporting labels. Li, though, seems more keen to wear age-appropriate clothes for the time being, but expect a scramble for her signature when the time is right.

In the meantime, assuming the paperwork can be sorted out in time, Li could soon be representing Hong Kong in the Olympics. Given the qualification system of admitting 60 players in each of the men’s and women’s tournaments based off the world rankings, Rio 2016 could be too early, but Tokyo 2020 could come at a perfect time.

3 thoughts on “World’s new golfing prodigy “wants to play for Hong Kong””

  1. This is truly a great story, but I am confused about the entire citizenship issue. I believe the SCMP had also recently written a story about several British youth footballers residing in Hong Kong who want to represent the special administrative region, but cannot as they do not have citizenship (residency would not be enough for them to represent the team). I am curious to know as to whether Li can keep her U.S. citizenship while having permanent residency for Hong Kong. Is there a separate set of rules for Hong Kong residents and foreigners? I do know that dual citizenship is not allowed under Chinese law, so will she have to denounce her U.S. citizenship if she wants to represent Hong Kong?

    1. I’m not certain of the specifics in this case, but lots of people have Hong Kong ID cards in addition to other passports. Usually, once residency is established, after a certain number of years (length of time varies by country) you are then eligible to represent your new country. But in sport, where there’s a will, there’s a way: even China tried to rope in a Panamanian (whose grandparents were Chinese) for the World Baseball Classic last year. They didn’t get clearance in time, but China did “adopt” an American with Chinese parents for the team.

      1. Yes, I have heard of the stories about Bruce Chen, who looked set on playing for China at the WBC until pulling out, and Ray Chang, who actually played for Team China.

        You are right that somehow, someway sport officials will find a way to make Li eligible for the Hong Kong team.

        I can also point to another good example of the whole “citizenship” issue.

        At last year’s FIBA Asia Men’s Basketball Championship, the Chinese Taipei team had American-born Quincy Davis in their team as FIBA rules allow for only one naturalized player in each squad. Under the policy on the island, Taiwan residents who have emigrated are allowed multiple nationality while immigrants who are looking to settle on the island cannot. Therefore, he had to renounce his U.S. citizenship before he could put on a jersey for the team.

        I guess Hong Kong’s golf officials will try to go this route so that Li can play for the team.

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