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Friday, July 12, 2024

Why the World’s Best Amateur Golfer Started His Pro Career With a Gamble

  • Christo Lamprecht gave up a major championship exemption to turn pro.
  • The golfer’s journey highlights the difficult decisions facing young stars in the sport.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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For golf’s top amateurs, summer is typically the season to transition to the next level. For one player, though, the journey to professional golf has been anything but textbook.

The U.S. Open, annually played on Father’s Day weekend in June, offers a variety of exemptions for successful amateur players. It’s common to see an exempt golfer finish their college season in the spring, play in the major championship, and then turn pro as the weekly grind to cash tournament checks begins. Neal Shipley, 23, was one of those young men this year: On June 16, he finished tied for 26th at the U.S. Open, won the tournament’s low amateur honors, and is now competing in Canada on the PGA Tour Americas as a pro.

Christo Lamprecht had the same option this year. The 23-year-old South African was the No. 1–ranked amateur golfer in the world as his collegiate career at Georgia Tech wrapped last month. Because he won 2023’s Amateur Championship (effectively the amateur British Open), he earned a spot in last week’s U.S. Open.

But Lamprecht, who showed off his skills as an amateur in April at the Masters, broke from the norm and gave up his U.S. Open exemption to turn pro immediately. It’s not that Lamprecht didn’t want to play at Pinehurst No. 2—he entered open qualifying and fell short in the final stage—but doing so as an amateur would have slowed down his immediate professional goal: Get on the PGA Tour as fast as possible.

“That’s been the lens that every decision was made through,” Jason Horrell, Lamprecht’s new agent at WME Sports, tells Front Office Sports. Lamprecht said in a statement that turning professional “fulfilled a lifelong dream.”

Along with eschewing the U.S. Open, Lamprecht is planning to forgo the sponsor invites many summertime PGA Tour events typically offer to new pros who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified. Instead, he committed to playing on the second-tier Korn Ferry Tour, in which total tournament purses are typically $1 million—a fraction of the $20 million offered at signature PGA Tour events like this weekend’s Travelers Championship. He missed the cut in his first start last week in Kansas but has this week’s tournament in Illinois, plus seven others to try to qualify for the four season-ending playoff events. The top 30 finishers in the KFT Finals earn PGA Tour cards for the following season.

Pursuing a place on the PGA Tour may be Lamprecht’s goal, but he has other choices to consider—as do many of today’s rising stars. In 2022, LIV Golf lured a top college player, then 20-year-old David Puig, away from Arizona State to join the controversial circuit. Lamprecht has piqued the interest of LIV, too; last summer, his performance at the Open Championship caught the attention of his playing partner that week—fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen, the captain of LIV’s Stinger GC team. “He’s got game,” Oosthuizen said

Despite the connection, Lamprecht never outwardly discussed the possibility of signing with LIV. “He is very close with Louis.” Horrell says. “They are longtime friends. So, I recall some of the chatter about that. But between Christo, myself, and the team, it’s never been asked or mentioned.”

As Lamprecht’s pro journey begins—in an albeit unconventional way—he’s well positioned to succeed. He has endorsement deals with Ping for his clubs and Under Armour for apparel. He has also been playing a Titleist ball. Horrell won’t say how much the golfer is earning but notes cash won’t be an issue. “From a financial perspective, he’s going to be well off for the foreseeable future, and he’s got all the money he needs to go play pro golf and not have to worry about it.”

Not every top amateur golfer has an exemption into a major championship to even consider passing up, like Lamprecht. But his decision shows a desire for immediate success in the professional ranks—and provides a template for a path others might consider following. Whether it’s competing at the Masters or U.S. Open as an amateur, or trying to win a national championship during a final year in college, enjoying the moment is great. However, in the end, the only way to have a long career in professional golf is to get—and ultimately stay—on tour. 

For Lamprecht, and maybe others, the sooner that happens, the better.

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