Michelle Wie can relate to Lucy Li

Michael Collins catches up with Michelle Wie to talk about some tips she may have picked up while watching the men compete at Pinehurst.

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PINEHURST, N.C. -- Michelle Wie is looking at her past. Lucy Li is looking at her immediate future. The topic: Playing your first U.S. Women's Open as a youngster. A very young youngster, that is.

A little more than a decade ago, Wie did it when she was 13. Li has upped the ante, if you will, by qualifying for this event at age 11. Li will tee off here at Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday at 7:07 a.m., and she hopes lots of spectators will come out to see her compete.

AP Photo/Northern California Golf Association/Ryan Farb

The youngest U.S. Women's Open qualifier at age 11, Lucy Li seems unfazed about the crowds she'll face.

"I think I like crowds; they don't bother me," Li said. "I play better the more people that come watch me."

Li was sitting in the interview room at Pinehurst on Tuesday, all braces and pigtails and giggles. She talked about loving to go to Dave and Busters, being a big fan of Sherlock Holmes books, and how she celebrated after qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open by going to see "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."

Eight hours earlier, Wie had sat in the same chair, now age 24 and a serious contender to win what would be her first LPGA major championship. But figuratively, Wie had been in this same chair in 2003. Then she was a 13-year-old at the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, facing a room full of adult reporters marveling at the Wunderkind.

"I wasn't quite as young as her," Wie said. "But I'm just so excited for her. I met her on Sunday afternoon. She looks so darn cute. I don't think I looked that cute when I was 11. It's definitely a walk back to memory lane."

Wie played in a United States Golf Association event -- the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links -- when she was 10 in 2000. She knows the spotlight that will be on Li this week will be adoring but also a bit critical.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Is that too young? What do you think?' " Wie said of Li, but she could have been talking about herself. "It's a memory that will last her a lifetime. What other 11-year-old can say that they played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and got to see the men play as well, too?"

Li has been around the Pinehurst area about two weeks, in fact. She has a local caddie. She has studied up on Donald Ross-designed courses. She is as ready for this as any 11-year-old could be.

And, yes, how absurd is that statement?

But prodigies put us in these strange situations, where we are both fascinated by them and worried about them. What if this is all too much too young? Should Li even be in this situation? How will it impact her future?

AP Photo/John Gress

In 2003, Michelle Wie was the center of attention as a 13-year-old qualifier for the U.S. Women's Open.

Of course, all the same things were asked about Wie, and she's done fine. Admittedly, Wie hasn't stockpiled LPGA titles; she has just three, the most recent coming in her home state of Hawaii in April. But she's graduated from Stanford, played on three Solheim Cup teams for the United States, and appears to be coming into her own as an adult.

Wie will be 25 in October, and by all accounts seems to have a pretty happy and balanced life.

"I really feel like I'm kind of starting the second part of my career," Wie said. "It's fun. It's a long journey. I'm in it for the long run. I'm just really grateful for all the experiences I've had. I've learned so much from my mistakes.

"I really feel like this is the beginning ... like there's so much ahead of me."

Li has a few other things in common with Wie, besides the golf prodigy thing. Both were born in the month of October (Wie in 1989; Li in 2002), and both have immigrant parents. Wie's mother and father came to Hawaii from Korea; Li's parents came to California from China, with a stay in Australia in between.

Li was born in Stanford, California, where Wie would end up getting her college degree. Wie is an only child, though, while Li has an older brother named Luke, who is now attending Princeton.

Li, who is generously listed at 5 feet 2, is also considerably smaller than Wie, who was always tall and has topped out at 6 feet. So while Wie has always been a big hitter, power is not Li's game now. And may never be. But she can already think her way around a golf course.

That cerebral approach fits her personality. Li is a history buff who devours books while also maintaining other hobbies such as swimming, badminton and table tennis. Li won't say she's planning for an LPGA career yet, because she sees no reason now to look so far ahead.

"I haven't really thought about that," she said. "Right now, it's just play as well as I can. The game's going to take me wherever it's going to take me. So I just really don't care that much."

Well, that's an uncomplicated swing thought: "whatever." And it's the right one for Li to have now.

Wie seemed a bit more intensely goal-oriented when she was doing the "superkid" thing, as did the likes of fellow Americans Lexi Thompson and Morgan Pressel, both of whom qualified for their first U.S. Women's Open at age 12 and are now on the LPGA Tour. But let's give Li a year or two and see where she is in regard to future plans.

Outliers create their own timelines, and also their own narratives. It was impossible not to compare Wie and Li here on Tuesday -- the whiz kid of the moment versus the whiz kid of yesterday.

However, as Wie would tell Li, there will be verbal stones thrown her way, along with bouquets. Li would be best to not get caught up in either. So what should she do this week at Pinehurst?

"I would say just to have fun," Wie said. "Try to learn as much as you can. Go up to any pro; we're not scary, we won't bite. Just ask us anything. That's one thing I wish I'd done more."

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