The Notebook: What we learned from last week’s US Women’s Open, the Memorial and the European Open

Patrick Cantlay, Yuka Saso and Marcus Armitage emerged triumphant in a dramatic week of tour golf around the world.

Not a bad week of golfing stories.

The US Women's Open threatened to be won by both a 17-year-old prodigy (Megha Ganne) and a 26-year-old former prodigy (Lexi Thompson), before it was actually won by a 19-year-old prodigy (Yuka Saso).

She overcame the field, brutal rough, history, sleepless nights watching Rory McIlroy's swing on her phone in bed, and Nasa (Hataoka) to become the championship's joint-youngest winner.

The Memorial Tournament was won twice over. Jon Rahm won the phantom event, leading by six after 54 holes before he was dramatically pulled from the event following a positive Covid test.

Then Patrick Cantlay overcame Collin Morikawa in a final round that vaguely resembled a wedding reception that goes ahead even after someone got left at the altar.

Marcus Armitage completed a fine hat-trick for the week, the popular Englishman thrashing a brilliant final round 65 to win the Porsche European Open in Hamburg before embarking on a zoom call with his girlfriend that might have been scripted by Victoria Wood or Peter Kay.

Here are a few thoughts on the week's activity.

Practice day madness

In his post-final round interview Armitage revealed: "It's mad, I've never lost so many balls as I did in the practice round."

It provided a weird echo of another European Open, at the London Club in 2009.

That year I stood behind the 10th tee on the Wednesday and watched Christian Cevaer duck hook his tee shot into a lake. Felipe Aguilar joined him, asked "What do you make of the course?" and then watched as the Frenchman sliced his second effort into wild long grass. "Not much," he grunted.

Cevaer opted not to hit a third, saying he'd instead drop a ball in the fairway. Intrigued, I continued to watch from afar. He hit the approach fat, it plopped into more long grass 40 yards short of the green, and he never bothered to look for it. I wandered away thinking he had no chance.

Five days later he won the tournament, a short-hitter, who struggled to even reach a couple of the par-4s in two, besting long-hitter Alvaro Quiros down the stretch.

Golfers spend decades honing their swings, their long game, their short game, their putting, their strategy, their mind game and their team. So much graft and then the magic fairy dust descends upon them out of nowhere. It is a baffling, maddening, gloriously fickle business.

Major surprises

Last August, Germany's Sophia Popov completed a superb victory in the Women's British Open at Royal Troon - a wonderful story that captured worldwide attention.

She'd been a promising amateur, but had failed to make the breakthrough either side of the Atlantic, found herself working for German TV during the 2015 Solheim Cup, later contracted Lyme's Disease, and had considered quitting the sport in 2019. Even early in the year she was caddying for Anne Van Dam on the LPGA and, in 33 starts of her own at that level, she'd made just three the top 30s.

Nonetheless, on the Scottish linksland, she outplayed the field to complete a stunning two shot victory that was immediately, and understandably, hailed as an outrageous surprise.

Yet the astonishing truth is that, based on odds alone, there have been five bigger shocks in the last seven women's Majors alone, the latest, of course, being Saso's stunning effort last week.

Here are those winners and their odds in full (in reverse date order):

2021 US Open - Yuka Saso 200/1, ANA Inspiration - Patty Tavatanakit 150/1

2000 US Open - A Lim Kim 150/1, PGA Championship - Sei Young Kim 16/1, ANA Inspiration - Mirim Lee 750/1, British Open - Sophia Popov 80/1

2019 British Open - Hinako Shibuno 200/1

Is this a case of the bookies getting the women's game wrong or is something else going on? Let's take each win in isolation.

Shibuno had never been seen outside Japan, but her two wins had been overlooked and it is true that players winning on the JLPGA and KLPGA can sneak into the Majors and perform there to an exceptional standard. On the other hand, odds compilers probably keep a keener eye on those results than any other demographic in the golf world - they're not daft.

Popov is actually proof of that. The books were far less surprised by her win than the rest of golf, something I know all too vividly. She might have had little exposure at the top of the game, but she had finished top 10 (comfortably her best LPGA effort) in late July, she was winning regularly on the minor tours, and she had contended the Sunday before heading to Scotland. I happened to also know that she enjoys links golf and even wrote her up as a tip, but felt I couldn't justify tipping her at 80/1. I wanted a minimum of 150/1. The books knew.

What of Mirim Lee? She had ANA Inspiration course form (four top 30s) but, in her only three starts in 2020, she hadn't made a cut. A Lim Kim? She'd landed four top 10 finishes in a row, easily her best form on the KLPGA, however she'd also played regularly since 2016 and was yet to win. Her price wasn't wrong.

Tavatanakit was also on the bookie's radar. She was not without Major form because she'd finished fifth in the 2018 US Open, enough to prompt me to tip her for last year's PGA Championship at 500/1. But a few months later she had begun to really find her feet at the top level, twice contending for wins ahead of her success in the ANA Inspiration. Her price contracted as a consequence. It was another surprise, but one canny punters could have landed and another that the books were somewhat alive to.

There is also something else going on here: it's not just that there is a proliferation of fairytale wins (audaciously claimed by players with little experience at the top level), there is also the reality that a whole host of the world's top ranked players are regularly underperforming in the Majors.

Danielle Kang has four top 10s in 50 starts, Nelly and Jessica Korda are still hunting a first Major title after 25 and 51 appearances respectively, Lexi Thompson has been waiting to land her second Major since 2014.

Inbee Park has absolutely no difficulty landing Major Championship top 10s (35 in 62 starts), but she hasn't won one in six years, Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson haven't done so in five, So Yeon Ryu is potless in four.

Surprise winners, the world's elite misfiring: the bookies must be loving it.

But keep truffling: the clues are out there and we've got three more women's Majors to come this summer.

Cantlay thinking of Torrey Pines

Not long now until the US Open and after returning to the winner's circle Cantlay will be on many short lists. The Californian had a few thoughts about the upcoming challenge.

He admitted that he hasn't had great experiences in the Farmer's Insurance Open (for the record: MC-51-MC), but that doesn't unduly worry him.

"I'm sure it will play different than it does in January," he said. "I like California golf. I imagine driving the golf ball will be just as key there as it was here and I drove the golf ball really well today. I like poa annua greens and I like firm, fast greens, so I think Torrey Pines will set up well."

He also had good memories of the last time the championship headed to San Diego: "I remember walking round, seeing Rickie Fowler hit a tee shot and thinking how much older he was than me, and that's funny now. Feels like such a long time ago, but the memory is etched in my brain."

Cantlay is priced 28/1 to win the US Open with Betway.

READ MORE: Is Rickie Fowler a good bet for Torrey Pines? Maybe, but he's got to get there first

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