Strategies for winning a major championship in golf rarely look like this. Realizing that your flight has been canceled and your next flight is delayed, you walk about half a mile to passport control, endure the grueling wait at baggage claim within 48 hours of the tournament’s first tee time, and stare into jetlag.
Good enough for Stewart Sink at the British Open on Thursday.
“When the gun goes off and you enter a tournament, the adrenaline kicks in. Adrenaline is great for jet lag,” Sink, 50, said. It also seemed to work well enough on his scorecard, posting a 3-under 68 and high on the leaderboard in the first round at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in the north west of England.
Deciding the fate of a tournament in the first round is a perpetually dangerous game, and it seemed especially dangerous after the opening game at Royal Liverpool. There, the leaderboard was a mix of old and new names at the top, and just below lurked a formidable army of familiar challengers.
Sink won the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, Scotland, beating Tom Watson, then 59, in the playoffs. But Georgia Tech amateur Christo Lamprecht finished the round at 5-under in first place. Past British Open runner-up Tommy Fleetwood and Emiliano Grillo, who birdied five of his final eight holes, faced Lamprecht later in the day to start Friday one stroke ahead of Brian Harman, Adrian Otaeghi and Antoine Rosner.
Rory McIlroy, who won the Open Championship in 2014, the last time the tournament was held at Royal Liverpool, finished with a par, while Cameron Smith, who is looking to defend the title he won last summer at St Andrews, Scotland, was one over.
Weather on the course known as Hoy Lake was expected to worsen during the tournament, with The R&A CEO Martin Slumbers listing “rainy” or “very wet” options for the weekend, making Thursday perhaps the best chance for a shot without diabolical complications for the 156-man field. (Players were certainly more likely to hit par or better than eating the soft he cream he cone on the course before they saw it melt and sticky.)
Hailing from Southport, England, just 30 miles north, Fleetwood is a crowd favorite almost everywhere, but especially in the UK. On Thursday, he put in a great performance that he hasn’t been able to do recently in the early days of the major leagues. He has not finished below average in the first round of a major since the 2021 Royal St. George’s Open, where he ended up tied for 33rd.
“As the first round went on, it was definitely the round I wanted. It feels good to have a good start,” said Fleetwood. Fleetwood struggled on the early tees but made a brave exit with a birdie on the fifth. He returned the stroke on the next hole and picked it up again on the 7th hole. He birdied four holes in the back nine to start a three-game winning streak from the 14th.
Lamprecht birdied on the third hole and started the climb earlier. But that came in the wake of a word of encouragement from Georgia Tech caddy and assistant coach Devin Stanton, who said he was probably “just a little bit nervous” all day after a bad tee shot at No. 1.
“Look, you’re playing in the Open Championship as an amateur,” Lamprecht reportedly told Stanton. “No need to stress.”
Lamprecht, who stands 6 feet 8 inches tall and is one of the tallest players to have qualified for the current 151st Open Championship, responded strongly. He stumbled twice on the back nine, but made four birdies on the leg to finish with 66.
“I think today’s play puts us at the top of the leaderboard at the moment,” said the 22-year-old Lamprecht. “I’m not being arrogant. I personally believe in myself. I think that as a professional or a competitor, when you stand on the first tee box, you should believe that you are the best person standing there.”
Cink, a Georgia Tech alumnus who still uses the school’s practice facility, marveled at Lamprecht’s talents, including his sheer power, again on Thursday afternoon.
“As a 50-year-old golfer, seeing a guy like him, seeing a guy like him show up is like a basic nightmare,” Sink said Thursday. “He can hit like 330 shots in the air and hit the little shots around the green very soft which is great. He has a lot of really great potential.”
Tink wasn’t ready to hand over the tournament to Lamprecht. Not after a day of almost completely dodging Royal Liverpool’s 84 brutal bunkers. Sink observed that the flatness allowed the ball to fly toward the lip with momentum, without gravity getting in the way. And despite his score, he didn’t think Hoylake was particularly well suited to his strengths.
“But playing smart, having discipline and patience, and keeping my mind in the right place suits my game,” Sink said. He turned 50 in May and is wondering if he will play more events in the PGA Tour Champions, recently known as the Senior Tour.
“A course like this needs it and it depends on execution,” said Sink, whose wife, Lisa, will caddy this week. “I had a really good performance today and it was very clear on the scorecard. It was a beautiful day. I putted well from the inside 8 feet. That’s what you have to do in the majors.”
Cuts set to top 70 plus tie will take place on Friday night. Heading into the second round, past major winners Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas were all in danger of seeing their Claret Jug ambitions quickly come to an end. Thomas, who won the PGA Championship in 2017 and 2022, tied for 153rd with 11 overs on Thursday.
But other major champions, including Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama and Scotty Schaeffler, are just four strokes behind the leader, laying the groundwork for a close race to the top.
Sink insisted Thursday that the tournament would not be exclusive to young players. Two years ago, Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at age 50, and in 2009 Watson crossed generations, he noted.
“I have no doubts that we can win,” Tink said. “It’s going to take a long time. It’s going to take some really, really exceptional play for me, but it’s there.”
In fact, even a player with an insane amount of confidence like Clark Last month, he said his victory at the Wells Fargo Championship in May convinced him (correctly) that he was good enough to win a major, pointing out the rigors of tournaments like this one.
“This is only day one,” Clark said. “I have three days left.”