A colossal competitor makes Masters debut

ATLANTA — Christo Lamprecht knows what’s coming.

As a 6-foot-8 senior at Georgia Tech, Lamprecht gets it. He understands that most of the time, strangers who see him wearing a Tech T-shirt or hoodie definitely do not assume that his sport of choice is golf and, when they learn it is, inevitably ask him the same set of questions.

So, for the record:

Yes, he has big sneakers. (He’s a size 13.)

No, he’s not on the Tech basketball team. (Though he’s taller than 12 of the 16 players who are.)

Yes, he likes basketball and the NBA even though he didn’t watch a game until he was 12. (Rugby and soccer are far more popular in his home country of South Africa.)

And no, dunking isn’t easy for him, despite the fact he’s nearly the same height as LeBron James. “I kind of have to put a lot of effort into it,” Lamprecht says earnestly. “It’s hard — it’s a full two-leg jump!” Quickly recognizing that most other humans won’t necessarily accept this explanation from someone who is taller than the average refrigerator, he adds, in a slightly lower voice, “I’m probably not the best jumper in the world.”

Fortunately for Lamprecht, a decent vertical isn’t especially relevant to his life aspirations. Professional golf awaits him later this summer, but this week he’ll play at the Masters — where, by all accounts, he’ll become the tallest competitor in the history of the event.

Lamprecht earned the invitation by winning last year’s British Amateur, and he accepts the reality that he’ll be a novelty for spectators at Augusta National who are used to watching, say, Tiger Woods (6-foot-1), Justin Thomas (5-10) or Rory McIlroy (5-10).

“Golf’s not really meant to be played by a guy that’s 6-8,” Lamprecht says. “So, there’s no blueprint to what the golf swing is supposed to look like for someone like me.”

What Lamprecht’s golf swing does look like is, well, long. And wide. And really, really fast, the arc of his club sweeping its way to the top before plummeting back through the hitting zone like an asteroid crashing to earth. Golf’s rules cap the length of a player’s driver at 46 inches, so Lamprecht’s force is especially remarkable when you consider that he can’t straighten his lead leg the way most players do at impact to increase power.

Instead, Lamprecht must bend his hips and knees and get down to the ball — because if he doesn’t, he’ll whip the clubhead over the top of it and miss everything.

In many ways, Lamprecht is working against history. In a study conducted by the PGA in 2018, the organization found that players with heights ranging from 5-10 to 6-4 had the most success on tour in recent years, with the smaller 6-1 to 6-4 subset being the most ideal. (How tall is Scottie Scheffler, the world’s best golfer right now? 6-foot-3.)

There have been plenty of taller golfers who starred — Dustin Johnson, a two-time major champion, is 6-4, as is Tony Finau, who has won six times on the PGA Tour. But when you get into the super-tall category, the list dwindles considerably: Phil Blackmar won three times on tour in the ’80s and ’90s, and at 6-7, he has been the historical standard-bearer for several decades. In addition to Lamprecht, there are a few other golfers at the upper altitudes currently trying to make it, including James Hart du Preez, another South African, who is toiling in golf’s minor leagues and is 6-10.

All of them are living the same reality: Because of the laws of gravity and the rules of golf that put limitations on equipment, height is both a blessing and a curse. Coaches talk all the time about a player’s “levers” — his limbs, essentially, that move the club around the body and into the ball — and the taller a player is, the bigger his levers are and thus, by extension, the more force he can deliver into the ball.

But as Lamprecht says, “with the big arc comes a lot more volatility,” and his trademark knee-bend is a way for him to try to harness his speed in a controlled manner. The result is a swing that has significantly more moving pieces than the typical tour pro’s, but produces results that are impossible to ignore.

The average ball speed produced by an everyday male golfer hitting a driver is around 140 mph, while the stock PGA Tour player’s is around 170 mph. One day last month at Tech’s practice facility — with very little warmup or stretching — Lamprecht casually walked onto the practice tee and unleashed a driver with ball speed over 200 mph.

“It’s like doing a 500-pound bench press, probably, when the average is doing like 80 or 90 pounds — it’s top of the top,” says Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion whose efforts at increasing his own ball speed are well-chronicled. “It’s very difficult to do — almost impossible for most people, unless you train for years to do that. So, what he has with his natural raw ability is beyond me and something I am jealous of.”

Lamprecht’s size runs in his family (his great-grandfather, he says, was nearly 7-foot), and as he grew up in George, in South Africa’s Western Cape, there was interest from rugby coaches who were intrigued by Lamprecht’s height.

Lamprecht fell in love with golf early, though — he first picked up clubs at age 3 — and his passion for the sport didn’t waver. He was the youngest winner of the South Africa Amateur in 2017 (at age 16) and was recruited by several top colleges before enrolling at Tech in 2020.

When he arrived, Tech’s coach, Bruce Heppler, was surprised by how much Lamprecht had grown in the few months since they’d last seen each other. In all, Lamprecht sprouted up more than a foot during high school, going from 5-7 to 6-8.

“All my clothes changed like three times in high school — my mom didn’t love that,” Lamprecht says. “My golf clubs changed about three times, too. It was a hard time for me on the golf course — a lot of good finishes, and also a lot of horrendous golf.”

Nowadays, Lamprecht’s irons are a full inch-and-a-half longer than standard. And while one might assume Lamprecht would use a broomstick-style putter to give his back a break on the greens, he actually prefers bending down and using an armlock putter that is 43 inches long, or just a touch shorter than the full broomstick that Will Zalatoris uses.

In truth, Lamprecht might take more pride in his short game than his power. He understands the fascination with his length, but he enjoys defying people’s expectations when it comes to his touch.

“We’ve had some guys here who could really get a ball up and down, but he’s as good as anybody,” says Heppler, Tech’s coach since 1995. “So to be that good at the beginning of the hole and at the end is why I think he has a really bright future.”

This week in Augusta actually isn’t Lamprecht’s first professional major; his British Amateur win also got him into last year’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, where he enjoyed a roller-coaster four days that included sharing the first-round lead after a 66, grinding to make the cut on the number after a second-round 79, leading the field in driving distance at 320 yards (the average was 293) and, in a moment that went viral, doing a remarkable impression of a flamingo while successfully hitting a shot from one of the course’s deep pot bunkers.

Veteran tour pro Stewart Cink, who went to Georgia Tech and lives in Atlanta, often practices alongside Lamprecht at Tech’s practice facility. He wasn’t quite as surprised by Lamprecht’s breakout moment at the Open as the rest of the golf world.

“As a 50-year-old golfer seeing a guy like him, he is pretty much your basic nightmare watching a guy like him coming up,” Cink said that day in England. “He can hit it like 330 in the air and he hits those little shots around the green so soft, it’s amazing. He’s got a lot of potential in front of him.”

While Brian Harman — at 5-7, one of the shorter players on tour — ended up winning the Open, Lamprecht’s main takeaway from the week was that his swing, unusual as it may be, is strong enough to take to the sport’s highest level. Seeing his last name atop the leaderboard that Thursday “hit somewhere where it hasn’t hit before,” he says. “It’s a really hard game, and it makes you doubt a lot more than makes you believe. To know that my solid round was good enough to compete with anyone in the world was really nice.”

Lamprecht still has the ACC tournament and NCAA championship to play with Tech, and he’ll graduate next month with a degree in business administration. He is mulling whether to turn professional before or after June’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, but whenever it happens, his aspirations are considerable. Other rising stars — like Ludvig Åberg, who graduated from Texas Tech in 2023 and has already played in a Ryder Cup and won on the PGA Tour, or Nick Dunlap, who left Alabama early after winning January’s American Express as an amateur — have set a high bar.

But first comes this week, and a chance to be part of golf’s most famous tournament (whose tallest previous champion, if you’re wondering, is believed to be 6-foot-5½ George Archer in 1969).

Lamprecht hopes to play a practice round with 2015 champion Jordan Spieth (“I think he knows his way around here”), and he is excited to spend some time in the Crow’s Nest, the rooms on the top floor of Augusta National’s clubhouse where amateurs have traditionally slept during tournament week.

In recent years, some amateur players have skipped actually sleeping over — the accommodations are spare and not necessarily as conducive to optimum performance as a rental house might be — but Lamprecht is leaning toward spending a night simply for the experience, though he concedes it will likely be uncomfortable since the dormitory-style setup probably wasn’t designed with someone of his stature in mind.

“I think I’ve lost about a million brain cells walking into doors,” Lamprecht says. “But any amateur in golf knows exactly what the Crow’s Nest is. I’ve heard the bed is probably up to my knees and the rest of me is going to hang off, but I’ll spend one night there for the experience and then a comfier bed for the rest of the week.”

While Lamprecht will soak in all that he can from his first Masters appearance, he has no intention of being overwhelmed. His performance at last year’s Open only strengthened his belief that he can compete with the professionals, and he wants nothing more than to make history by becoming the first amateur to ever win the Masters.

Of course, should he pull off that feat, there might be an interesting moment in the post-round ceremony. Masters champions always receive the club’s distinctive green jacket, and while the club keeps a wide variety of sizes on hand to account for the varied shapes and body types of potential winners, it’s not clear whether they’d have a coat that could easily be slipped over Lamprecht’s sizeable shoulders.

For what it’s worth, Lamprecht, who wears a size 50 extra long, says most of his length is “in my legs” and so it’s possible there might be a jacket on hand that could fit him. But he also wants to make clear that he’s not picky.

“Whatever they do have would be fine and if I somehow win, I would gladly take it,” he says. “They don’t even have to give me one. As long as I win the golf tournament, I’d be more than happy.”

ESPN producer Harry Hawkings contributed to this report.

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