For the third time in just six years, a young South African will tee it up in the Open Championship as the British Amateur champion.
After the success of Jovan Rebula (Ernie Els’ nephew) in 2018 and Aldrich Potgeister last year, Christo Lamprecht is the latest citizen of the rainbow nation to earn that coveted exemption, as well as, by tradition, an invitation to next year’s Masters and a spot in the 2024 US Open at Pinehurst.
The highest-ranked player in the field at No.6 in World Amateur Golf Rankings, Lamprecht’s progress to the 36-hole final on Saturday, in which he defeated Ronan Kleu of Switzerland 3&2 over the Hillside links in Southport, England, was not without its difficulties. The 22-year-old, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech University, scraped into the matchplay stages on the 141 number, which meant he was forced to win a preliminary-round contest (on the last green) just to enter the last 64. In contrast, Kleu finished T-2 in strokeplay, shooting 69-64 over Hillside and the other qualifying course, Southport & Ainsdale.
Reflecting the international nature of the event – 42 nations were represented in the 288-strong starting line-up – as many as 24 different flags were still flying when the knock-out contests began. One of those was the Australian flag, although those hopes ended when Josh Greer was bundled out in the round of 16 by Sweden’s Tobias Jonsson. The last Australian to win this event was Bryden Macpherson in 2011.
Another was the Stars and Stripes, although only two players from the US, Tommy Morrison and George Duangmanee, made it through the 36 holes of strokeplay. The last American to win was Drew Weaver in 2007.
More encouragingly for the worldwide growth of the game, Estonian Richard Tear made it as far as the quarter-final before succumbing to the eventual champion.
Still, Lamprecht’s comfortable 6&5 victory over Tear was hardly reflective of the 6-foot-8 golfer’s overall progress. Again, in contrast to Kleu, who was never down in either his quarter-final or semi-final matches and required only 26 holes to win both, Lamprecht was 2 down standing on the 16th tee in his semi-final clash with Florida-based Englishman Frank Kennedy.
Kennedy, the recent winner of the Lytham Trophy (the unofficial British strokeplay championship), played the last three holes in a not-disastrous one-over par, yet lost out to the par-eagle-par finish by Lamprecht that was enough to carry him through to a final he dominated after a slow start saw him 2 down after nine holes. Not until the 15th hole in a high-quality morning round did the 2022 GCAA All-American scholar take a lead he would never relinquish. In all, Lamprecht made seven birdies and an eagle prior to a well-earned lunch and a 2-up halfway advantage.
Four down with seven holes to play in the afternoon session, Kleu, bidding to be the first Swiss winner of this historic championship, exerted some pressure on his much longer hitting opponent with winning birdies at the par-4 12th and 13th. The 340-yard 14th was halved in birdies, courtesy of Kleu’s remarkable recovery from heavy rough that was followed by a huge putt for the 3 Lamprecht matched with his own unerring 10-footer.
That was to prove an especially crucial moment. Lamprecht restored his 3-up advantage when a deft pitch led to yet another birdie at the 15th. One hole and one par later, it was all over.
“I was just trying to stay in my zone over the last few holes,” said the champion. “Ronan was playing so well and fighting back hard. I guess South Africans like playing links golf. We like to be creative, which seems to help in this event.”
Ironically, Lamprecht identified the unlikely half in bogeys at the par-5 fifth hole in the afternoon as the turning point in the match.
“I felt comfortable after that,” he continued. “I pulled my drive way left into the jungle, but somehow found a way to halve the hole. After that, I just had to keep playing good golf, which I did. My main goal this year was to play my way into a major. Now I’m in three, which is insane.”