HOYLAKE, ENGLAND | “In 25 years inside the ropes, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said an official who walked the first round of the 151st Open with South African amateur Christo Lamprecht. “It was extraordinary,” he added, impressed by the pace-setting 5-under 66 that the 22-year-old had carded but rather more in awe at the nature of it.
The tour veteran was not alone.
The galleries, too, were giddy at the way in which Lamprecht swept his way across the linksland of Royal Liverpool. Every furiously fast swipe of the driver had them gasping and giggling at the distances that he launched the ball.
His playing competitors – compatriot Louis Oosthuizen and Dutchman Joost Luiten – felt as if they were playing a different course, unable to reach some fairway bunkers Lamprecht straightforwardly cleared on the fly.
Sage observers who had observed his victory in last month’s Amateur Championship at Hillside, just 30 miles north along the Irish Sea, and warned that the Hoylake test would be too severe for him, were left with egg on their faces.
And a voice in the media centre suggested that if the 6-foot-8 Georgia Tech senior ever wins the Claret Jug, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers would need a stepladder to present it to him.
The height, it transpires, is hereditary. “My dad is 6-4, and he’s the shortest of the last five generations,” Lamprecht told a gaggle of media members who responded to the news in much the same way the galleries had greeted his long driving. “My grandfather was also 6-8, and my great grandfather was 7-0. It runs in the family.”
As tall as he is, Lamprecht, who shared the early first-round lead with local favorite Tommy Fleetwood, is not the lankiest Open competitor. Jonathan “Jigger” Thomson was 6-9 in the 2022 championship, a then-PGA Tour record until Korn Ferry Tour regular James Hart du Preez, another South African, set a new high of 6-10 in the 2022 American Express.
What does distinguish Lamprecht, however, is the outrageous combination of height and athleticism. Viewed from behind his speed is evident, but it is from side-on that the remarkable dip and thrust of his turn becomes clear. Asked about the explosiveness he had witnessed, Luiten merely blinked a few times and shook his head in astonishment.
In contrast, Oosthuizen was prepared for the experience because Lamprecht has been part of the 2010 Open champion’s foundation program since age 14.
“It was a kind draw playing with Louis, and it helped a lot today,” Lamprecht said. “Having someone that I know so well, and who is an enormous mentor for me, helped me feel at ease. He was supporting me the whole way through, and that means a lot.”
The 5-foot-9 Oosthuizen confirmed that, even at age 14, his protégé had been taller than him, but was it the first time he had claimed the win? “It’s the first time he’s beaten me by eight shots,” he said with a laugh, adding that what had most impressed him was the maturity of the performance.
In that Amateur Championship triumph last month, Lamprecht had taken aim at the green on any par-4 less than 430 yards and, moreover, always found the putting surface or left himself chipping from inside 30 yards. Members of Team South Africa had suggested his game plan was boom or bust and had little in the way of adjustment. It did not bode well for a major championship layout featuring more penal bunkers and rough that had been freshened by Tuesday’s rain.
It turns out that Lamprecht is far from one-dimensional.
“Hitting it as hard as I can and smashing it 400 yards is fun and cool,” he said. “But hitting it far is not what I think golf is all about. I think links golf is a true test of golf, and it’s the way golf is supposed to be played.”
“I think I earned my spot to be here, and the way I played today I earned to be on the top of the leaderboard as of now. It’s not a cocky thing to say. I’m very proud – a little bit surprised, naturally – but also I played good golf today.”– Christo Lamprecht
Those watching the first round might have found it hard to believe that this was Lamprecht with the hand brake on, but he insisted that it was.
“At Hillside, a lot of the bunkers were at about 300 yards, so I could comfortably carry a lot of them, and that gave me a huge advantage,” he said. “That’s why I felt so comfortable there, especially in match play. I could be aggressive.
“Out here, the bunkers are placed a lot better. There’s some holes I can take advantage of my length, and I did so today. But I’m thinking a little more around here. It’s the Open. It’s not going to be easy, is it?”
As well as smart, he is confident.
“I think I earned my spot to be here, and the way I played today I earned to be on the top of the leaderboard as of now. It’s not a cocky thing to say. I’m very proud – a little bit surprised, naturally – but also I played good golf today.”
And what of the future?
Long-term he insisted: “At the start of my college career I made a promise to our head coach [Bruce Heppler] that I was going to stay four years, and I think you’re only as valuable as your word. So, yeah, I’m definitely planning on staying in college for the next year and turning pro after that.”
And this week? “I’ve changed my mindset about how I approach tournaments in the last year. I just control what I can control and only worry about the next shot. So, I’m not remotely thinking of Sunday or anything. All I’m thinking of is hitting a good tee shot on No. 1 tomorrow.”
Top: Lamprecht, all 6 feet, 8 inches of him, tees off in front of the Open gallery at Royal Liverpool. Photo: Stuart Kerr, R&A via Getty Images.
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