The strategy for winning a major golf tournament rarely looks like this: find your flight canceled and the next flight delayed, walk half a mile to passport control, endure an excruciating wait at baggage claim less than 48 hours before the tournament’s first tee times and stare at jet lag.
It worked well enough for Stewart Sink on Thursday at the British Open.
“When the gun fires and you start in the tournament, you have this adrenaline, and adrenaline works wonders for jet lag,” said Sinek, 50. He also appeared to be very useful to his scorecard, which reported a par of 68 less than three times what put him at the top of the leaderboard on the first round at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in the northwest of England.
It’s forever a dangerous game to predict the fate of the tournament after one round, and it seemed particularly perilous after going so early in Royal Liverpool, where the top leaderboards mixed old names, new names and an army of familiar formidable opponents at the bottom.
There was Cink, who won the 2009 Open Championship title in Turnberry, Scotland, edging out Tom Watson, 59, in a playoff. But Christo Lamprecht, an amateur who plays for Georgia Tech, finished his five-round lead. Tommy Fleetwood, the former Open Championship runner-up, and Emiliano Grillo, who holed five of the last eight holes, matched Lambrecht later in the day, allowing them to start Friday with a one-stroke lead over Brian Harman, Adrian Otaegwe and Antoine Rosner.
Rory McIlroy, who won the British Open in 2014 when the tournament was last held at Royal Liverpool, finished on equal footing, and Cameron Smith, looking to defend the title he won in St Andrews in Scotland last summer, is up.
With the weather on the field, known as Hoylake, expected to deteriorate during the tournament — R&A CEO Martin Slumbers mentioned his weekend options as “wet” or “very wet” — Thursday may have been the 156er’s best chance to make shots without diabolical complications. (Players definitely had better odds of shooting or better than finishing one of the soft serve ice cream cones on the course before seeing it melt into a gooey, dizzying mess.)
Fleetwood, from Southport, England, just 30 miles north, is a crowd favorite almost everywhere but especially in Britain. On Thursday, he threw the kind of sterling play that has eluded him lately early in the major leagues. He had not finished below par in the first round of a major since the 2021 Open at Royal St George’s, where he was tied for 33rd.
“As the first rounds go, that’s just what you want, and getting off to a good start feels good,” said Fleetwood, who struggled with the early tees but left No. 5 encouraged by a birdie. He returned the stroke to the next hole, before catching it again on the seventh hole. He made four holes in the back nine and started a streak of three at No. 14.
Lamprecht’s climb began soon, with a birdie on the third hole. But it wasn’t until after shooting the first-place tee—when he’d probably felt “a little on his nerves” all day, he said—that sparked a pep talk from Devin Stanton, his school caddy and assistant at Georgia Tech.
Lamprecht said that Stanton told him “Listen, you play in the World Open as an amateur”. “No need to stress.”
Lamprecht, who at 6-foot-8 is among the tallest players to ever compete in the British Open, now being held for the 151st time, responded forcefully. He stumbled twice on the back nine but used four birdies inside the stretch to finish at 66.
“I think the way I played today earned me being at the top of the leaderboard, so far,” said Lamprecht, 22. “It’s not presumptuous to say. Personally, I believe in myself, and I think going into square one if you’re a professional or a competitor, you have to believe you have to be the best out there.”
Sinek, a Georgia Tech graduate who still uses the training facility there, marveled at Lamprecht’s talents, including his massive strength, and marveled again Thursday afternoon.
“As a 50-year-old golfer seeing a guy like him, it’s pretty much your primary nightmare, watching a guy like him coming,” Cink said Thursday. “He can hit it 330 in the air and hit those little putts around the green so softly, he’s amazing. He’s got a lot of really good potential in front of him.”
Not that Cink was ready to concede the championship to Lamprecht, not after a day in which he almost completely avoided Royal Liverpool’s brutal 84-bunkers. Senck noticed that their flatness sends a momentum-laden ball toward the lip, unimpeded by gravity. Despite his grades, he did not consider Hoellick to be particularly suited to his strengths.
“But playing smart and discipline and patience and keeping your heart in the right place, that fits my game,” said Cink, who turned 50 in May and was considering whether to play more events on the PGA Tour Champions, as they’re known these days.
“It’s required in courses like this, and it’s about execution,” said Sinek, whose wife, Lisa, is his caddy this week. “Today I did very well, and that was very evident on the scorecard. It was a nice clean day. He hit well inside eight feet. That’s the kind of stuff you have to do in the major.”
The cut, which is slated for a Top 70 tie-breaker, is expected to take place on Friday night. Heading into the second round, former winners Bryson Dechambeau, Dustin Johnson, and Justin Thomas were all in danger of seeing their Claretty pitcher ambitions quickly ended. Thomas, who won the 2017 and 2022 PGA Championship, shot 11 times on Thursday, putting him in a tie for 153rd.
But some other major champions, including Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama and Scotty Scheffler, were only four strokes away from the lead, laying the foundation for a scramble towards the top.
On Thursday, Cink insisted that the championship was not the exclusive dominance of young players in the game. He noted that two years ago, Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at the age of 50, and then there was Watson’s performance for the ages in 2009.
“I have no doubts that I can win this,” said Cink. “It’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take some really exceptional playing on my behalf, but it’s in there.”
Indeed, even an unnaturally confident player like Clarke – Last month he said his win in May at the Wells Fargo Championship had convinced him (correctly) that he was good enough to win a major – and pointed to the rigors of a tournament like this one.
“That’s just Day 1,” Clark said. “I got three more days.”