In the week when the extraordinary Bernhard Langer wrote yet another glorious chapter on longevity in golf’s book of records by winning the Senior US Open at just a few weeks short of his 66th birthday, expect the young generation to strike back at the US Women’s Open at a course we all know, Pebble Beach.
For the gals the spectacular Californian part-links (a ‘public’ course but with green fee, caddie and tip you won’t get much change from 700 bucks) has been set at 6546 yards par 71 and the prize money is the best of all the women’s majors at $10m.
A 20-year-old novice professional, Rose Zhang, holds the women’s course record at 63 and although the USGA will be making Pebble tougher than it was when Zhang, then a Stamford student, shot her 63 last September, it still gives her what could be a crucial edge in what is only her third start among her LPGA sisters.
So far this Californian prodigy has won on her pro debut at the Americas Open and top-tenned on her majors bow at the PGA where victory went to another dazzling 20-year-old just sprung on us, Ruoning Yin, from China.
Ruoning - they call her Ronnie - also hit the ground running, pipping our own Georgia Hall for the LA Open in April and then showing great course management to add a major to that last month.
So that’s two majors from two for the new kids on the block as Lilia Vu, another cool American prospect who nabbed the year’s first, the Chevron Championship. At 25 she’s almost a pensioner these days. Two years ago it was Yuka Saso, a Filipina who now plays out of Japan, stunning the world at 19 by winning the US Open in a nerve-shredding playoff, emulating Inbee Park who was the same age when she captured the first of two US Open titles in 2008.
All this is to say don’t be afraid of backing raw young recruits as girl mature more quickly than the male of the species - and unlike some of the older ones they are carrying no baggage. Also only 20 is talented Thai Atthawa Thitikul who mopped up in Europe in her LET season and was doing very nicely in the States until missing the cut in the last major. That rare blip will have helped her price and she looks a stonking each-way bet.
We have to face it, the old order is changing, particularly as now Nelly Korda, by some way the top-ranked American, is struggling with repeated back problems. Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang are lights of other days, Lydia Ko’s last seven starts are underwhelming, Jin Young Ko has never won a US Open (nor any major for four years) and there’s only one top-ten from eight for defending champion Minjee Lee.
All are opposable as are the Europeans. True, Leona Maguire and Celine Boutier are 2023 winners in the States but Georgina Hall’s hot start to the year hasn’t been maintained and it’s hard to make a case for Charley Hull.
South Africa’s British Open champion Ash Buhai is a recent winner in the States while Canada’s aggressive Brooke Henderson and Aussies Hannah Green and Grace Kim got their W earlier in the year and cannot be ignored. But try three 20-year-olds, Zhang, Thitikul, Yin, and 22-year-old Saso, runner-up to Yin at the PGA, to disrespect their elders and make it a 1-2-3-4 for the power of youth. Langer could be their grandad!
The 78th Open will be Pebble’s first as regards the women but it has hosted six men’s Opens. When the wind blows - gusts of up to 34kph are expected on Friday and Saturday - the exposed holes can bare their teeth. Nobody finished under par when Graeme McDowell won the 2010 edition and only Tiger Woods broke par in his 15-shot massacre of the 2000 field. Birdies may be a relatively rare species this weekend.
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