Wyndham Clark’s US Open defence fuelled by Mom’s memories

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Wyndham Clark looks skywards to acknowledge his mother Lise after winning the 2023 US Open. Photo: Getty Images

By Jim McCabe

In a sports world that seems to be more and more a stage for teenage phenoms and proteges establishing Hall of Fame credentials barely into their 20s, it’s still a special treat to discover an athlete who hits a few bumps along the way and needs until his seventh professional season to break into the spotlight.

Related: Ahead of US Open, Matsuyama finds timely form at Memorial

That Wyndham Clark arrived with a couple of exclamation points in the 2023 season – a U.S. Open triumph last June, one month after winning the Wells Fargo Championship – might tickle your fancy. But if you then remind yourself that you don’t know much about him, well, sit up and pay attention because there are layers and layers about this now 30-year-old, three-time PGA Tour winner that are rich in flavour and character.

The gut feeling is, with Clark prepared to try and defend his U.S. Open title at Pinehurst this week, you will embrace him for the star that he is.


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Take his comment after posting what some would call a stunning U.S. Open victory at Los Angeles Country Club’s fabled North Course. “Stunning,” that is, because it wasn’t Rory McIlroy or Scottie Scheffler or even Rickie Fowler winning, heralded commodities, each and everyone. But whatever . . . let’s play back Clark’s words:

“I feel like I belong on this stage,” he said after closing with level-par 70 to finish 10-under 270. “Even two, three years ago when people didn’t know who I was, I felt like I could still play and compete against the best players in the world. I felt like I’ve shown that this year (’23).”

Hard to say that Clark didn’t have a point. After all, from No. 109 in the Official World Rankings in early March, Clark hung up a series of strong finishes – fifth, sixth, third (in a team event, the Zurich Classic), his first PGA TOUR win at the Wells Fargo, and 12th at the Memorial – and pushed to 32nd.


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Granted, that’s not exactly making a grand entrance, but when he teed it up at LA North, Clark had earned praise from colleagues who knew of his talents. And all he did over the next 72 holes was get into battle with four players ranked within the top 10 and come out on top.

From sharing first with recent PGA champion, Xander Schauffele after opening 64s, Clark went on to win by one shot over No. 3 Rory McIlroy, with No. 1 Scottie Scheffler third. And should you need further proof as to what sort of closing gut-checks Clark has flashed, consider that at the Wells Fargo he beat Schauffele, then at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, the runner-up was rookie phenom Ludvig Åberg.

“Wyndham’s won . . . and they’ve been against unbelievable fields,” said Casey Martin, who coached an Oregon team in 2016-17 where Clark was a star.

The fact that there is an intersection between Wyndham Clark and Casey Martin speaks to the intriguing road this young man has been on. True, Clark did not explode onto the PGA TOUR stage and win the Masters at the age of 21, like Jordan Spieth. Nor did he capture four major victories by age 25, like McIlroy.

But it’s not like Clark picked up some golf instruction book as a young teen and call Oklahoma State the next day and asked for a scholarship. He was a quality junior player, twice the high school state champion in Colorado and it was with enthusiasm that one of the nation’s top collegiate programs, Oklahoma State University, brought Clark aboard as a heavily-recruited freshman in 2012.


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Which is where his saga of ups and downs began. An injury in his first year sidelined him and in August of 2013, just before his second year, an emotional blow was delivered when his mother, Lise, died of breast cancer.

Golf, for good reason, was pushed to the back seat.

“It just wasn’t as much of a priority for me after she passed,” he said. “It got to where it was really hard and just not enjoyable.”

From the 2013-14 season through 2015-16, there were many positives for Clark, as he was consistently named to all-star teams and given national recognition, including inclusion to the 2014 Palmer Cup. But for his 2016-17 redshirt senior season he chose a change of scenery. With Oregon, Clark connected with a coach, Martin, who knew what it was like to ride the ups and downs in life.

A talented player who was good enough to play alongside Tiger Woods at Stanford, Martin’s dream to make it to the PGA TOUR had a serious obstacle. A birth defect in his right leg – a medical condition where the blood vessels and lymph vessels failed to form properly – meant he would need a golf cart. It led to a long lawsuit against the PGA Tour (which he ultimately won), but never was Martin healthy enough to go beyond the Korn Ferry Tour, where he did record one win.


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In Clark, Martin saw someone with a fire to compete that needed time to burn. At the end of his senior year in 2017, Clark was named a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award and the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

It never surprised Martin that Clark needed a year on the Korn Ferry Tour (2018) or that he showed modest improvement over each of his first four seasons on the PGA Tour (2019-22). But Martin knew that eventually, Clark’s enormous talent would soon surface and he knew what Lise Clark’s sister, Monique, knew.

“Wyndham always wanted to be number one in the world. He always said, ‘I’m gonna be number one in the world,’” Monique told reporters in Albuquerque, N.M., the city where Randall Clark and Lise Thevenet – Wyndham’s parents – grew up.

“(Lise) encouraged him. She told him, ‘You can do anything you want; you can be number one in the world.’”

Though she died way too young, just 55, Lise Clark proved she knew what burned within her son because while Wyndham Clark isn’t quite No. 1 in the world, he’s sitting third, behind only Scheffler and McIlroy.


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The thing is, let it not be forgotten that when the pressure of a U.S. Open was on last year, Scheffler and McIlroy were the ones sitting behind Clark. Stunning to many, but not to those who believed in Clark, most importantly his biggest fan.

“I know my mom is proud of me,” Clark told reporters after his major win at LA North. “She’s always been proud of me, regardless of how I’m doing or what I’m doing. I just wish she could be here and we could enjoy this (together).”

Sadly, that’s not possible. But it’s very possible that the star that Lise always predicted for her son will continue to burn bright.