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US Open, Child Exploitation?

Recently an 11-year-old girl earned an opportunity to tee it up at Pinehurst in June for the United States Women's Open.

Lucy Li, a sixth grader from Redwood Shores, California, became the youngest ever to qualify for the event. Although I am happy for Li, I am not sure if this isn't some sort of child exploitation.  I am concerned.

When I was 11, I was wiping my nose on my brother's sleeve and participated in sports like creek stomping, 500, kickball and pickle.  Expectations have changed.  I appreciate pushing the envelope beyond what many believe is achievable, but to what extent?

Recently I heard a compelling speaker on this very topic. Charles R. Scott, The Family Adventure Guy spoke about taking his 8-year-old son on a bike ride across Japan. In 2009, the duo peddled 2,500 miles, for 67 days and crossed 10 mountains. Then in 2011 he cycled the circumference of Iceland in 46 days with his 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. In 2012 he cycled across Western Europe in 42 days with his 11-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. In 2013 he cycled 1,700 miles of the Lewis and Clark Trail in 51 days with his son of 12 years and daughter, 6.


People along his journey inevitably shared their disapproval of forcing these young children through this excruciating experience. The people would say "these children are too young to be doing this!"

His response was, "Don't limit humans on what they can accomplish according to you." He always backed his belief with a proverb. The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.

Overall, his children felt a sense of accomplishment.  "Sure they would get bored" said Scott, "that is why we have something called an imagination."

I think pushing human limits are a part of living.  My wife runs marathons, teaches body pump, body combat and cycle class in her spare time from being a Director at United Health Care.  She pushes her limits daily.  I too went through some of the same rigorous body pushing endeavors during my 10 years of playing professional basketball. (Now I just try to maintain!)  So I do understand the idea of pushing your limits to live life like you should.  I get the whole idea that pain is weakness leaving the body. I get it.

But I am torn on what I think about Lucy Li.  Last year, when asked at the Public Links event if she wanted to play college or professional golf in the future, Li shrugged and replied, "I don't know, just wherever it takes me." Li, delighting galleries as she hopped and skipped down fairways, snapping her tiny fingers as she sang between shots, became the youngest qualifier in history at the Women's Amateur Championship in 2013.

She carded rounds of 74 and 68 on the Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links in California to not only qualify but also win by seven strokes. Li will be 11 years 8 months 19 days old on June 19 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C.

Li will eclipse the previous youngest qualifier, Lexi Thompson, who was 12 years 4 months 18 days old when she played in the 2007 Open.

But she is not be the youngest-ever competitor; that distinction belongs to Beverly Klass, who played in the 1967 Open at 10 years 7 months 21 days old, when qualification was not required. Sectional qualifying for United States Golf Association championships started in 1976.

Last year, at 10 years 8 months 16 days old, Li became the youngest player to advance into match play at the Women's Amateur Public Links Championship — surpassing Allisen Corpuz of Hawaii, who qualified for the 2008 championship. Michelle Wie had previously been that event's youngest qualifier, 10 years 8 months 23 days in 2000.

There is no minimum age requirement at the Open.

"That's the democratic nature of all the championships conducted by the U.S.G.A.," said Christina Lance, the assistant manager for championships. "As long as players reach the handicap requirement, they can attempt to qualify. This tournament is open to all."

Li, a youngster with ribbons in her hair, obviously looks like a child, but she was eligible to qualify because her handicap is 2.4 or better.

Li handled the spotlight with ease in April at Augusta National during Masters Week when she won the 10-11 age division at a Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. Her poise, in spite of her age, has drawn high praise from her swing coach, Jim McLean, who has trained her for nearly three and a half years.

And when asked what she learns from watching pro golf on television, Li, who is a fan of Rory McIlroy, said, "When you watch the men play, their games are very interesting because they hit balls all over the place and sometimes, they have to get out of the woods."

Qualifying for the Women's Open will continue through May 30. Alexa Pano, a 9-year-old from Florida, has entered the last qualifying tournament in Vero Beach, Fla., and could surpass Li and Klass as the youngest entrant.

"It's a great thing for the future and growth of the game to see these young players qualify," Lance said. "It's still pretty extraordinary."

Is the US Open exploiting youth to gain ratings?  Is it the right of any parent to push their children to feats that are often thought of as unobtainable by many? Why does the NBA have the one and done rule? Can a kid just be a kid?  Youth should be cherished, you will have the rest of your life to be a grown up!

What do you think?