SYLVANIA, Ohio (AP) — Lucy Li already is assured of an LPGA Tour card for next year. The 19-year-old Californian played Friday as though she is ready to join the big leagues even sooner.
Li had five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine and kept bogeys off her card the rest of the way for a 7-under 64 that gave her a two-shot lead in the Dana Open.
Another 19-year-old, Chinese rookie Ruoning Yin, and Carlota Ciganda of Spain each had a 69 to trail Li going into the weekend at Highland Meadow.
Li is best known for becoming the youngest player in the U.S. Women’s Open when she qualified at age 11 in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2. She has won twice this year on the Epson Tour to secure one of the developmental circuit’s 10 LPGA cards for 2023.
“It definitely gives me kind of the ability to play free just knowing that I have status next year and kind of focusing on some other goals for me, playing in some more LPGA starts and stuff like that,” Li said.
Defending champion Nasa Hataoka (66) and Lexi Thompson (69) were among those three behind.
Li’s run of birdies started on the par-4 12th and she ran off three straight birdies starting on the 14th. Equally critical for the California teenager were a number of par saves, especially No. 1 after making the turn.
“I chunked it from being in the middle of the fairway. That was really embarrassing, and I’m glad I was able to save the par there,” Li said.
Li had an exemption to play in Canada last week in the CP Women’s Open, and her tie for ninth got her into the Dana Open.
“It was such a quick turnaround for me. I just played one practice round. I just wanted to play the best that I can,” Li said. “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.”
Yin was among three players who shared the lead after the first round. One of her goals is to play bogey-free, and her lone bogey in the opening round motivated her to finish with six birdies over the final 10 holes. She wasn’t so fortunate Friday. Yin twice followed bogeys with birdies, but mostly it was a steady diet of pars.
Yin earned her card through the LPGA Q-Series last fall. She is 143rd in the Race to CME Globe and found herself pressing so much and working so hard early in the year that she injured her wrist. She even played a few Epson Tour events when she wasn’t eligible for the European swing, and that might have aggravated it.
At least she spent more time on her short game, which is paying off. Yin also believes she has found the right recipe for practice.
“When I hit bad, I just want to press more, more, more and I think that’s what caused my injury,” she said. “Right now I just play less and I hit the ball less. Get back to my old game.”
Hye-Jin Choi, who also shared the lead after 18 holes, had a 70 and joined the group at 7-under 135 that included Wei-Ling Hsu of Taiwan (66) and Caroline Masson (67).
Ciganda, the other co-leader, after 18 holes held her own in the afternoon.
“The course was playing a little different than yesterday I thought,” Ciganda said. “I think with the heat and the warm weather it’s drying out a little bit, so the fairways are running a little bit more. I would have like a couple more birdies, but I think I am in a good position coming into the weekend.”