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The Youngest Phenoms in Sports History


Lucy Li (pictured above) is at an age when most girls are arranging stuffed animals and gazing at One Direction posters instead of competing in elite sporting events. The 11-year-old golf prodigy is prowling the fairways at Pinehurst No. 2 at the U.S. Women's Open one week after the best male golfers in the world (sans former fellow prodigy Tiger Woods) played the very same venue.

"She looks so darn cute," said one-time phenom Michelle Wie, who played in her first U.S. Women's Open at 13. "I was like, 'I don't think I looked that cute when I was 11.' But she just looks so excited, so wide-eyed … And I'm just really so excited for her to be out. It's a memory that will last her a lifetime. What other 11-year-old can say that they played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst? And she got to see the men play, too." Li, who qualified for the Open by winning her sectional qualifier by seven shots, joins a long list of athletes who've played well beyond their years in a variety of sports.

Here's a rundown of prodigies and phenoms by sport:

Youngest Major League Baseball Player

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Joe Nuxhall, 15

Cincinnati Reds, 1944

On June 10, 1944, shortly after the D-Day invasion, Joe Nuxhall made a pitching appearance for the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 15 years, 10 months and 10 days. He faced nine hitters, retiring two, and allowing two hits, five walks and five runs. He wouldn't appear in the majors again until age 23 and went on to post a 135–117 big-league record.

Noteworthy: Freddie Lindstrom batted .333 in the 1924 World Series as an 18-year-old (including a four-hit game against Hall of Famer Walter Johnson), making him the youngest player in World Series history. Andruw Jones is the youngest player to hit a home run in World Series play, going yard in Game 1 vs. the Yankees in 1996 at the age of 19 years, 180 days, breaking Mickey Mantle's record.

Youngest to Play in the four Men's Major Golf Tournaments

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Masters — In 2013, Guan Tianlang (pictured above) made the cut at The Masters at 14 years, 5 months, making him the youngest to make the cut at a men's major. After Guan played with Tiger Woods in a practice round, Woods said, "It's frightening to think that he was born after I won my first Masters."

U.S. Open — Andy Zhang played in the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club at 14 years, 6 months.

British Open — Young Tom Morris lived up to his name, appearing in the 1865 British Open at 14 years, 4 months.

PGA Championship — Japan's Ryo Ishikawa played in the 2009 PGA Championship and made the cut at age 17.

Youngest NFL Draft Pick

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Amobi Okoye, 19

Houston Texans, 2007

The youngest NFL player of the modern era, Okoye emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria and began playing college football for Louisville at age 16, making him the youngest college football player as well. Taken in the first round by the Texans, Okoye made his NFL debut in 2007 at the age of 20 years, 91 days.

Youngest NBA Player

Andrew Bynum, 18 years, 6 days

Los Angeles Lakers, 2005

The era of high school draftees yielded a number of 18-year-old NBA players, but none younger than Bynum, who made his debut for the Lakers at the age of 18 years, 6 days. Bynum narrowly beats out Jermaine O'Neal (18 years, 53 days) and Kobe Bryant (18 years, 72 days). Trailblazing prep-to-pro Kevin Garnett made his debut at 19.

Youngest London Olympian

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Adzo Kpossi, 13

Swimmer, Togo

Kpossi, from the West African nation of Togo, competed in the 50m freestyle swimming event at the 2012 London Olympics, finishing 72nd out of 73 swimmers after training at the only pool in her part of Togo — a hotel pool in the city of Sarakawa.

Noteworthy: The youngest-ever Olympian is thought to be Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed in the team parallel bars event at age 10 in the 1896 Athens Games. Swimming legend Michael Phelps competed in Sydney in 2000 at age 15. American Dominique Moceanu (1996 Atlanta Games) is the last gymnast to compete at an Olympic Games legally at the age of 14.

Youngest NHL Hockey Player

Armand (Bep) Guidolin, 16

Boston Bruins, 1942

Guidolin made his NHL debut with the WWII-ravaged Boston Bruins on Nov. 12, 1942, at the age of 16 years 11 months, becoming the league's youngest player ever. He later went on to coach Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr.

Noteworthy: Defenseman Larry Hillman is the youngest player to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, winning the Cup with Detroit in 1955, at the age of 18 years, 2 months, 9 days. (This is a record that can't be broken under the current rules as a player must be eighteen years old by September 15 to be eligible to play in the NHL that season.)

Youngest Driver in a Sprint Cup Race

Tommie Elliott, 15

Altamont-Schenectady Fairgrounds, 1951

Elliott was a driver from Bloomfield, N.J., who competed in seven career races at the highest level of NASCAR, posting four top 10s. He made his debut at the tender age of 15 years, 7 months, 5 days, finishing 15th at Altamont-Schenectady. Next-youngest: Darryl Sage, who ran at the Nashville Speedway in 1982 at 17 years, 2 months, 2 days.

Youngest Grand Slam Tennis Champion

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Martina Hingis, 15

Tennis bad girl Martina Hingis burst onto the scene by winning a doubles title at Wimbledon in 1996 at at age 15 years and 9 months, with partner Helena Sukova. Hingis went on to become the youngest Grand Slam singles winner in the 20th century by winning the Australian Open in 1997 at age 16 years and 3 months.