Lucy Li's joy was refreshing reminder
Sherlock Holmes. Yoga sitting. Ice cream.
As she sat there, with an ice cream bar melting in her hand, breaking down how she loves to chill in-between holes and what she planned to do for the rest of her day ("eat more ice cream"), she went into almost adult-like detail telling us about herself and the game she had just finished fascinating the world with. It was the opposite of Allen Iverson's "practice" press conference. A little girl on a grown-folks stage being the one thing she was not supposed to be: a little girl.
Her mother, Amy Zeng, told Golf.com the sixth-grade phenom "will read anything with Sherlock Holmes in it."
Let's put Lucy Li into perspective here. What exactly is the takeaway we are supposed to get from an 11-year old -- even with missing the cut and not playing the final 36 holes of the U.S. Women's Open -- who will soon go through a public scrutiny period much worse than the one we (the public and media) put Michelle Wie through 10 years ago?
Li, over the course of 48 hours, simply reminded us how we should never forget why sports are played in the first place. Yes, there was controversy surrounding her participation at the USGA event and questions about the long-term damage being America's next sports child prodigy could do to her career if she stays on this path. (Stacy Lewis -- the top-ranked player in the world -- said she thought it was too much pressure on a young kid.) But for two days, Li held a mirror up and showed us the power of the child-like qualities/attitudes that still remain in every sport played that we've all become too jaded to remember.
Her words: "Just be patient and not care about what happened, just go to the next shot and hit it like nothing, like it's the first shot."
The shot that made you fall in love with sports in the first place. The first time we all touched a ball, swung a bat, threw a punch with 3-ounce gloves on, shot a puck, kicked a ball into the back of a net. This is what she sat before us and called to our attention. This is what she is now the embodiment of.
It's all become such a business now. Further and further detached and removed from anything not connected to winning or the subjective positioning of "best ever" something. Numbers connected to contracts, numbers connected to money, numbers connected to efficiency, numbers connected to percentages, numbers connected to commercial endorsements and product moved, numbers connected to followers, numbers connected to wins and losses and rings.
Lost is the innocence of sports, where the only number that mattered is the number connected to the amount of hours we are allowed to play before our mothers screamed our names through windows or doors saying it was time to stop and come inside. See, numbers do lie.
And the proof is in the blessing that Li did not win. Which essentially was the best thing that could have happened to her and the best thing that could have happened for us. She did not challenge Wie (the tournament's winner) or Lewis over the weekend to become the new youngest-player-to-ever-win-anything and have a payday beyond the annual salary the average person reading this would ever in their lives earn. (Wie took home $720,000.) Not winning -- not having Li become "that" newfound professional athlete of grandeur, excess and example -- allowed her to keep her feelings about how she feels about her sport in proper perspective in her life; it also stopped us from forcing her into a dream that is more ours than hers.
Li not winning, simply put, kept what she loves doing for fun from becoming a business, a job. It stopped all of us outside of her family from grandiloquently putting an "Inc." after her last name. A child will not become a brand.
It is as if we've devolved into a people who have purposely forgotten sports are called "games" for a reason. That they are something we play, not perfect or do. It's as if we've grown into a society and culture that no longer cares about anything else but end results or bottom lines. Who is going to win? Who is the highest paid, and do they deserve that contract? Which team can be called a dynasty? Should college athletes be paid? What about the salary cap? Red Sox or Yankees? Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus? Football over Futbol? "Six rings. ... It's the only argument I need, Shawn!" It's as if we no longer have the wherewithal to include the purity of sports into our lives and remember what sports (used to) mean to us.
It's almost as if we have a problem with an 11-year-old being thrust into our lives to reaffirm in the most earnest of ways what really should matter when it comes to sports.
Li has become a part of our lives for a reason that has nothing to do with golf. It, the game, just happened to be the vessel. She, the messenger. For this moment -- and this moment alone -- Li, in her beautiful display of just being herself, was able to become the "chosen one" who returned us to a place of athletic innocence rapidly on its way to being extinct.
It is said that everything just so happens to happen for a reason. It is also said that a little child shall lead. It's kinda cool when both happen at the same time.