Christo Lamprecht: “Every single time I step on a links course I feel like I’m at home.”

Words by
Dan Davies
Christo Lamprecht: “Every single time I step on a links course I feel like I’m at home.”

Christo Lamprecht, newly crowned British Amateur champion and No.3 in the WAGR rankings, is set to play in his first major at the Open Championship at Hoylake. Here, the big hitting South African talks about his season with Georgia Tech, links course creativity and why the best amateur golfers now feel they can compete with the best in the world. 

If he wasn’t so pumped about the prospect of competing in his first major championship, Christo Lamprecht would have every right to feel exhausted. Going into the recent Amateur Championship at Southport & Ainsdale and Hillside, the 6ft 8in South African had played seven tournaments in eight weeks, including a run with Georgia Tech to the NCAA Championship Match in the finals at Greyhawk. 

Then there was the small matter of 10 competitive rounds of golf in six days to become the 128th Amateur Champion. In doing so, he added his name to the famous trophy alongside GA Tech alumni Bobby Jones and Charlie Yates, as well as booking his passage to the Open at Royal Liverpool, and next year’s Masters and US Open. 

The 22-year-old admits he was not overly confident when arriving in England to join up with his teammates in the South African national squad. He felt like he’d lost his swing during the matchplay stages of the NCAA finals and was ready for some much-needed down time.

“I had been playing well,” he says from his family home in the Western Cape, “but I was kind of worn down, so I thought I might not have my best stuff. I hadn't been home in a while, my back was a little stiff and I was just mentally fatigued. Then as the week went on, I started to feel good about my game.” 

The South African team’s head trainer, Gavin Groves, was on hand to supervise post-round training, stretching and treatments. “It kept me going,” Christo says. “That was crucial to me playing well at the end of it.”

Christo qualified for the matchplay stages by the skin of his teeth, birdieing the final hole at Southport & Ainsdale to get in on the number. He had played conservatively in qualifying and his putter was stone cold. It was not a particularly auspicious combination. All that changed, however, when he got to Hillside for the matchplay stages.

“I just felt that the golf course suited my eye and a lot of the bunker placements were perfect for me.”

“I was playing ultra aggressive in the practice rounds at Hillside and I was seeing driver everywhere,” he reveals. “Being aggressive has always been my natural thing to do. Over the years, I've learned how to be smart aggressive, and not just be stupid and go at everything. In the strokeplay, I played very defensively but in the matchplay, I just felt that the golf course suited my eye and a lot of the bunker placements were perfect for me. I could get over them whereas a bunch of guys couldn't.”

Christo’s prodigious length – he averages 316 yards off the tee, around 20 yards longer than the PGA Tour average, and has an average Shot Quality with his driver of 116, which puts him alongside the very best on tour – wore down successive opponents. While they were coming in with short or mid irons, he routinely left himself short pitch or chip shots into par fours. 

After winning the last three holes to see off England’s Frank Kennedy in the semi-finals, Christo went round in a six under par 66 in the opening circuit of the 36-hole final against Switzerland’s Ronan Kleu. It set him up for a 3&2 victory (watch highlights) that saw his name added to an impressive recent roll call of South African champions in the Amateur Championship.

And now for the Open, where there is a similarly illustrious Springbok lineage. After his parents, the first person to call Christo after his victory at Hillside was one of those previous South African Open champions: Louis Oosthuizen. 

“It was the one that meant the most to me personally,” he says of the call. “I joined Louis’ academy in 2014 as a 14-year-old, which is when I started building a relationship with him. Throughout the years and the better I've got, the more information I’ve gotten from him. I’ve asked him for his opinion about college, about pro life, about when is the right time for that. He's been a big mentor for me. Having guys like Ernie Els and Gary Player, the phenoms of South African golf, both congratulate me was pretty special, too.”

Player, Els and Oosthuizen all have their names on the Claret Jug. So, why does this latest South African phenom think his country has managed to produce the Champion Golfer of the Year on no less than 10 occasions? 

“I like seeing things and feeling things. I think that resonates with what links golf is all about.”

“We grew up with creativity built into the golf courses we play in South Africa and the conditions we play in,” he replies. “It's so close to what links golf actually is. It's using the surroundings, using the slopes, seeing multiple shots with different shot shapes and kind of figuring your way round. I think that's why South Africa's had great success in those two events. 

“I love links golf,” he continues. “Every single time I step on a links golf course I feel like I’m at home. I'm probably not the most technical golfer out there. I like seeing things and feeling things. I think that resonates with what links golf is all about.”

Christo admits to knowing very little about Hoylake, which will stage the Open for the 13th time. He’ll have Georgia Tech Assistant Coach Devin Stanton on the bag, who, alongside Head Coach Bruce Heppler (below), he credits with being “instrumental in my growth as a golfer and as a person.”

It was a conversation with his coaches at the start of his sophomore year, when Georgia Tech had just started using Clippd, that led Christo to the realisation that his game needed serious attention if he wanted to scale the heights of college and then professional golf. 

“It got to a point where I realised that modern day golf is becoming a wedge fest,” he says. “I felt with my length off the tee, I just wasn't good enough in that department of my game. Clippd showed me that I wasn’t capitalising on my good driving with my wedges and short irons. The scoring clubs have been a massive key to the success I've had in the last 20 months. It's been about making sure that when I'm in those positions, I'm capitalising on more and more opportunities to score.” 

He also points to his increased maturity on the golf course. “I'll definitely weigh up my options,” he says of his approach to the Open. “Obviously, you don’t win the tournament in the first two days and while it might sound somewhat wrong of a young amateur playing in the Open to be thinking that, I’ve got to approach it like just another tournament.

“I guess that there'll be time for some aggressive play and knowing me, I probably will play a couple of holes aggressively,” he smiles. “I have a tendency to lean towards my driver, for sure, so we'll see how that goes. I'm going to stick to my game and stick to my guns. It's links golf and one thing that I'll be strict on is trying to stay away from those pot bunkers.”

In the last 10 years, amateur golfers have regularly come to the fore in the Open Championship, with Ireland’s Paul Dunne memorably playing in the final group in the last round at St Andrews in 2015. With the level that college golf is at right now, and the access more of the best college players are getting to the PGA Tour, does Christo believe that the gap between college golf and the elite professional game is narrower than it's ever been? 

“In my opinion, it is,” he responds. “If you look at the college driving averages and the PGA Tour driving averages, we probably hit it at least 10 yards further. There are lots of positives and the opportunities we are getting is making a lot of guys hungrier and more motivated to play well in college and build that stepping stone straight out of college into the PGA Tour or whatever tour they’ll play on. 

“I honestly think the top 15 or 20 college players right now are good enough maturity wise, talent wise and just with their whole consistency, to play on the PGA Tour. A lot of people might disagree with me, but that's where I'm at.”

This week, Christo Lamprecht will be at Royal Liverpool where he’ll be able to put his theories, and his massive driving, to the test. One strongly suspects it will be the first in a great many major championship appearances.

Read our special Shot Quality analysis of the new par-3 17th hole at Royal Liverpool