Mark SchlabachESPN Senior Writer5 minutes of reading
HOYLAKE, England — Amateur Christo Lamprecht may be the only one at Royal Liverpool Golf Club who is not surprised that his name is at the top of the rankings with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo after Thursday’s opening round of the 151st Open Championship.
Lamprecht, 22, had seven birdies and two bogeys while carding a 5-under 66 in his first round of a major championship. The Georgia Tech senior qualified for The Open in June by winning the British Amateur at nearby Hillside Golf Club.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Lamprecht said. “It’s nice to see a lot of work behind the scenes pay off. It’s something I haven’t dreamed of yet, but it’s pretty cool.”
Lamprecht is only the second amateur to have at least a share of the co-lead after the first round of The Open in the last 50 years; Tom Lewis was second in 2011, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. Bobby Jones, who also played at Georgia Tech, was the last amateur to make the first round of an Open at Royal Liverpool in 1930.
“He’s playing great golf,” said the 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen, who played with Lamprecht on Thursday. “The length he hits off the tee, there [are] many bunkers not in play, which is a big advantage. But you still have to hit it [on a] pretty good line off the tee. Yes, he’s a good player.”
Oosthuizen should know. Lamprecht has attended his golf academy in South Africa since he was about 14. The foundation provided him with coaching and other resources that helped him land a scholarship to Georgia Tech.
At 6 feet, 8 inches, Lamprecht is believed to be the tallest player to ever compete in The Open. He said his father is 6-4, his grandfather is 6-8 and his great-grandfather was 7 feet. Lamprecht said his growth spurt came near the start of high school.
“I was growing so fast and my swing was changing every week and it was all over the place for two years there,” Lamprecht said. “I think when I finally got to a certain length where I wasn’t growing as much anymore and got a little bit more mature, I figured out where I needed to go.”
Lamprecht insists he is not only concerned with hitting the ball far. Still, he was third in driving distance at 325 yards Thursday and had drives of 364 yards on No. 2 and 353 yards on No. 18. He was fifth in strokes gained: approach (3.46) and 25th in strokes gained: putting (1.63).
“As a 50-year-old golfer, to see a guy like him, he’s pretty much like your basic nightmare,” said Stewart Zink, who is in seventh place at 3 under. “He can hit 330 [yards] in the air and he hits those little shots around the green so softly, it’s amazing. He has really good potential ahead of him.”
LIV Golf League star Bryson DeChambeauone of the longest hitters off the tee in the game, approached Lamprecht on the driving range earlier this week.
“He just wished he had my length, I think,” Lamprecht said. “No, I don’t know. Hitting long isn’t what I think golf is about. I think links golf is a true test of golf and that’s the way golf should be played.”
Lamprecht, the No. 3 ranked amateur in the world, played it almost better than anyone on Thursday. Fleetwood, who grew up in Southport, England, about 30 miles from Royal Liverpool, is certainly one of the crowd favourites. He birdied four holes on the back nine to match Lamprecht’s score.
“They were great, from the first tee on, through the whole round, the way they were down that last hole there, the reception I got,” Fleetwood said of the fans. “Such a special opportunity to play so close to home but have that support and play an Open, glad I gave them some good golf to see. But for me, yeah, so cool for me to step out on the golf course and have that kind of support.”
Three other players, including American Brian Harmanwas 1 stroke behind at 4 under. Max Homa was among five players who were 3 under. Jordan Spieth was 2 under after 18 holes, and the world’s No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele was 4 shots back at 1 under.
Rory McIlroy, who won The Open the last time it was played at Royal Liverpool in 2014, needed birdies on two of his last five holes to get back to even par. Defending winner of the Open Championship Cameron Smith was 1 over.
“I didn’t really get it going on the front nine,” McIlroy said. “Missed a couple of putts and then missed the little one on the eighth hole. Had a good chance to get it back on 9 and hit a good putt, but I just didn’t read it right.
“A couple of putts started going in on the back nine for me, which was nice to see. Hopefully I’ve got my eye on the line and I can build on that over the next three days.”
All eyes were surprisingly on Lamprecht on Thursday.
“I think the way I played today has earned me being at the top of the rankings right now,” Lamprecht said. “It’s not a cocky thing to say. I just think personally that I believe in myself and I guess if you step into the first tee box, if you’re a professional or a competitor, you should believe that you’ve got to be the best standing there.”