AURORA — There are 96 of the world’s top 100 women golfers in attendance for the CP Canadian Open this week, but few drew bigger crowds on opening day than 12-year-old Michelle Liu.
The Vancouver amateur is the youngest competitor to ever participate in the event, breaking Brooke Henderson’s tournament record, age 14, set in 2012.
While few knew of the Canadian prodigy prior to the tournament, her popularity exploded this week leading to some of the loudest roars at Magna Golf Club.
“On the first hole, she’s never experienced anything like that,” said Rob Houlding, her coach and caddy for the tournament. “There had to have been 500 people on the right side and she stood up like it was a normal day and piped one right down the middle.”
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The crowd instantly erupted in applause, loud enough to disrupt the hole beside it.
As composed as she was on the tee box, it was difficult to overcome her challenges on the fairways. With her fellow playing partners regularly hitting drives 50 to 70 yards further, Liu was fighting an uphill battle with the 6,709-yard course.
“The yardage was too long for her, so every par 4 for her looked like a par 5,” said Jenny Xu, mother of the Canadian phenom. “I needed to pray for her approach shots when she was using a 3-wood or big hybrid to be in a good position.”
Liu’s LPGA debut ended with 9-over 81, putting her nine shots behind the cut line.
“I just didn’t play very well. I would say I am disappointed about my score,” said Liu in frustration. “I would say I don’t expect much, but also expect to play something I think is my average score.”
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The 12-year-old showed what type of competitor she was after the round, immediately heading to the practice area and getting extra reps on her chipping.
Regardless of her score, the crowd was incredibly supportive of the amateur. By the end of the round, Liu had probably signed a number of hats, flags, and booklets, an experience her family never expected.
“That really surprised me,” said Liu’s mother. “I never thought there would be so many people to come watch her play and give her the encouragement and cheer. I really appreciated it.”
Both her mom and coach were overwhelmed with joy after the round, demonstrating how heartwarming a storyline the 12-year-old was at the CP Canadian Open this year.
“I got to tell you, probably four to five times today I teared up,” said Houlding. “It was unbelievable.”