Kentwood sophomore uses golf to dream big

Catherina Li, 15, is usually spotted after school with her golf bag on her back, making a 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the Meridian Valley Country Club.

Catherina Li gets practices her swing at the Meridian Valley Country Club. The Kentwood High School sophomore practices golf for at least two hours every day.

Catherina Li gets practices her swing at the Meridian Valley Country Club. The Kentwood High School sophomore practices golf for at least two hours every day.

Catherina Li, 15, is usually spotted after school with her golf bag on her back, making a 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the Meridian Valley Country Club.

The Kentwood High School sophomore practices golf for at least two hours every day to improve her game. Her hard work paid off last week when she won her district match and shot a 64.

“I had no idea when I first started playing golf that it would become such a large part of my life,” Li said. “I see golf not only as a passion, but as a ticket to college; a tool that will get me to where I want to go in life.”

This year, Li was named an honorable mention Rolex Junior All-American by the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), establishing herself among the top tier of current and former junior golfers from around the world.

“Honestly, my favorite part of golfing is competition,” Li said. “I love the feeling of being under pressure and the adrenaline rush I get when I make that perfect shot.”

Li earned Rolex Junior All-America honors for the first time in her career behind her first AJGA victory at the AJGA Junior at Centennial. Ranked No. 43 in the Polo Golf Rankings, she notched runner-up finishes at the AJGA Stonehenge Junior Open and the W. Duncan MacMillan Classic at Rush Creek.

“She’s exceptional,” said Cheryl Havena, coach. “She’s a steady force to have on the team because she is so consistent.”

Li has been playing for seven years. She says she didn’t always love the sport.

“My dad made me come out and play with him and I would hit several bad shots and beg to leave,” she recalled, laughing.

Zhenhai Li bribed his daughter with treats and time with friends to get her to play golf. When they got to the course he would teach Catherina drills and help her set goals for each practice.

“For the first couple years I went out just to get my rewards and then I went out because I was finally playing well,” Catherina said. “I’m really thankful for my parents because they didn’t just teach me golf; they taught me discipline and perseverance.”

Jen Li said she noticed a change in her daughter when Catherina started to take golf seriously.

“The first three years she had such up and down times with golf,” Jen said.”But I see how it has helped her grow and get more serious about her future and what she wants in her life. She works so hard and we are so proud of her.”

Li is enrolled in several honors courses and received straight A’s last year. She is a member of the Future Business Leaders Association and the National Honors Society.

“My goal is to get a scholarship in golf and play on a college team,” Li said. “I’m not sure where I want to go yet, but I was thinking it’d be cool to go to a university in California.”

Havena can’t wait to see what Li will do.

“Her future is wide open,” Havena said. “She’s a strong player and her game will get her far.”

One thing Li knows for sure, is that she will always play golf.

“I will probably do it until I die,” she said. “Through trial and error on courses I’ve learned to push myself and rely on myself; that’s something golf does to you.”


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