MARTIN Kaymer has assured Moritz Lampert he made the right decision by snubbing the spotlight in Germany this week in order to try and follow exactly the same spikemarks into the big time as Brooks Koepka.
For the second year running, the £200,000 Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore has reached the halfway stage with the possibility of the winner securing instant promotion to the European Tour.
It’s an English 1-2 after two rounds, Londoner Andrew Johnston having come in late in the day with a 65 – bettered only by unheralded Spaniard Xavier Guzman as he signed for a 64 – for 11-under to lead by a shot from compatriot Jason Barnes.
Breathing down their necks is Australian Terry Pilkadaris after he finished an incredible 44 shots ahead of one of his playing partners – hapless Turk Kaan Kalafatoglu – on a day the Antipodean described as “a bit of a blur”.
However, lurking ominously in the Highlands, just five off the pace, is Lampert, who, in the fledgling stages of his career, has already displayed the German efficiency that has served both Kaymer and, of course, Bernhard Langer so well on the fairways around the world.
Events in both Austria and the Canary Islands have already been won by the 22-year-old from Hoffenheim this season. One more win and he’ll secure promotion to the European Tour. It’s exactly the same position Koepka was in 12 months ago and, after delivering the goods in the shadow of the Cairngorms, the American has never looked back, as evidenced when he finished fourth behind runaway winner Kaymer in the recent US Open at Pinehurst.
As one of Germany’s emerging forces, Lampert was offered an invitation to this week’s European Tour event, the BMW International Open in Cologne, but turned it down. Instead of a one-off, he’s more interested in tasting full-time action on the European Tour and Kaymer, who graduated from the Challenge Tour himself, is backing his tunnel vision.
“There was a bit of buzz in Germany about me not playing in the BMW this week,” revealed Lampert, a two-times Junior Ryder Cup player after a second-round 67. “But I spoke to Martin Kaymer two days ago and he told me it was the right decision. I want to focus on the Challenge Tour.
“The goal is to win (for a third time), but, whether it’s here or the next couple of weeks, I don’t know. Brooks Koepka did it here a year ago and what he has done in the last couple of months is incredible.”
On a day when the temperature dropped considerably from earlier in the week, Johnston, who played in the same England boys’ team as reigning Johnnie Walker champion Tommy Fleetwood, made his move on the back of eight birdies.
Both him and double Alps Tour winner Barnes, however, have some seasoned campaigners on their tails in the likes of Pilkadaris, a three-times Asian Tour champion, as well as former European Tour winners in Kenneth Ferrie (66) and Bradley Dredge (69), both of whom are just five off the pace.
Given that he spent lots of time over the opening two days searching for balls in the heather, it was an incredible effort from Pilkadaris to put himself in contention.
“The round is a bit of a blur,” admitted the 40-year-old in reference to the adventures of Kalafatoglu, a 21-year-old rookie professional playing here as part of the reciprocal agreements in place on one of the game’s development circuits, as he followed up an opening 92 with an 85. “There was so much happening out there today – things going on left, right and centre, calling groups through and looking for balls,” added Pilkadaris.
Leading a severely depleted Scottish challenge – only four are still standing from a 23-strong contingent at the start – is Greig Hutcheon, for whom the highlight in a 68 was a 30-foot birdie putt at the 16th – his sixth hole.
“I’ve shot 64 and 65 here before and hopefully I can card a couple of low ones over the weekend,” said the 41-year-old as he set his sights on a fourth Challenge Tour triumph but first since 2003.
Next best among the home challengers are newly-crowned Northern Open champion David Law and former EuroPro Tour No 1 Paul McKechnie, both of whom are on four-under.
“This is the first time I’ve made the cut here in three appearances and that’s nice because when you’ve got people here watching you on home soil you don’t want to disappoint them,” said Law after a 67 that included a second eagle of the week at the par-5 13th.
McKechnie, meanwhile, jumped in his car to head down the A9 for a lesson straight after he signed for a 68. “I’m away down the road for a lesson with Alan McCloskey,” he revealed.
“My game isn’t bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve not really been hitting my irons close enough and hopefully I can sharpen that up for the weekend. Alan would see me at 4am in the morning if I needed help.”