Not yet an LPGA rookie, former junior phenom Lucy Li shoots 64 to take the lead in Dana Open

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With each passing round, it seems, Lucy Li is announcing herself as a formidable competitor on the LPGA Tour.

The 19-year-old from Northern California earned a spot in the LPGA Tour’s Dana Open this week by notching a top-10 finish (T-9) in last week’s CP Women’s Open in Canada.

With quickly changed travel plans and only one practice round at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio, Li turned in another strong outing on Thursday by shooting three-under-par 68. On Friday, she took it to another level.

Starting on the 10th hole, Li drained five birdies to make the turn in 32, and she scored two more birdies on the back and made a couple of key par saves in scoring a seven-under-par 64 that put her in sole possession of the lead at 10 under while the afternoon wave played.

China’s Ruoning Yin (69) was alone in second at eight under.

Asked what she might feel on Saturday as the potential 36-hole leader, Li said, “I’m not sure. I’ve never led an LPGA event before, so we’ll see. It’s kind of a new experience.”

Li turned pro at the age of 17 after a precocious youth career that included qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 11. She’s played the last couple of seasons on the LPGA developmental Epson Tour (formery Symetra), but hardly set that circuit ablaze until this year. Then Li won the Carolina Golf Classic in June and backed that up a month later with a victory in the Twin Bridges Championship.

That win gave Li a mathematical guarantee that she’d earn her first LPGA Tour card for the 2023 season and she parlayed the ability to freewheel it into last week’s strong effort in Canada, where she opened with a 66 and closed with a 67 to tie for ninth.

After her stunning debut at 11, Li has seen limited opportunities to play on the LPGA, but her performances in the last year have been impressive. Since tying for 16th at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open, not far from home at The Olympic Club, Li had five other top-level starts before this week, and three of those resulted in ties for 16th or better. Her only missed LPGA cut in a year camne at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles.

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