A moment nearly eight years in the making is finally here — Lucy Li is leading an LPGA event.
The 19-year-old Californian was a child phenom. She famously played the U.S. Women's Open at 11 years old — a record that still stands today. After winning twice this year on the Epson Tour, Li secured a full LPGA card for next season.
However, before next season, Li is trying to get as many LPGA starts under her belt as possible. She played last week's CP Women's Open and recorded her first LPGA top-10 to earn a spot in this week's Dana Open.
"It was kind of hard to have expectations or goals (this week) because it was such a quick turnaround for me," Li said after her Friday round. "I just played one practice round. I just wanted to play the best that I can.
"You know, I was looking forward to going home this week actually, but it's nice to be out here playing on the LPGA. I'm just trying to have a good time."
Full-field scores from the Dana Open
After shooting consecutive bogey-free rounds — which Li doesn't "think I've done that in a really, really long time, or maybe ever" — of 68-64 to notch a two-stroke clubhouse lead at 10 under, it's safe to say Li is indeed enjoying her week so far. And she's doing it stress-free.
"It definitely gives me kind of the ability to play free just knowing that I have status next year," she said, "and kind of focusing on some other goals for me. You know, playing in some more LPGA starts and stuff like that."
The expectations for a child prodigy can be tough. When Li first turned professional in 2019, she struggled. Then, as Li was trying to find her groove, she was thrown a curveball when COVID hit in 2020, halting competition, along with many other things.
However, Li eventually found her footing and now hopes to live up to the high expectations, just as Michelle Wie West, Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko — who all burst onto the scene at a young age — have done.
"It was a little bit tough for me (when Li first turned professional) because I was so young, but someone called me old this week, which was tough," she said with a chuckle. "Just focusing on playing my game and not thinking about the past or the future. Doesn't really matter when you're out there."
Now as the 36-hole leader, Li will try to stay in the moment. Though, with this being the first time she's in a position to win on the LPGA, she's not too sure how her nerves will hold up.
"I've never led an LPGA event before, so we'll see," she said. "It's kind of a new experience.
"Definitely having those two wins on the Epson Tour gives me that confidence knowing I can play well coming down the stretch. I think it's just really important to treat every day the same, no matter what position you're in. That's like the number one key for me."
If Li can hold her lead through another two rounds while following her own advice, then a star will be born on Sunday.