Tips that helped Wyndham Clark win the US Open

LOS ANGELES — As he descended the eighth fairway on Sunday afternoon, the US Open leader might as well have been a ghost. Most of the Los Angeles Country Club gallery was too busy shouting encouragement at Rickie Fowler to pay attention to Wyndham Clark.

You got it, Rick!

Let’s go, Ricky!

You are more beautiful!

Then a rowdy middle-aged man finally addressed Clark and didn’t hold back.

“Sorry, Wyndham, we don’t really care about you,” he shouted at Clark. “We don’t know your story yet.”

They know Clark’s story now. They know how his mother’s death nearly drove him out of the sport, how he only won a PGA Tour last month, and how he’s only just beginning to realize his potential. They know he was 60 to 1 to win the US Open that week. And they know Sunday night he did just that, fending off a four-time major winner and the face of the PGA Tour no less.

Clark even hit a par 70 in the final round of the US Open on Sunday to finish 10 under in the tournament and edge Rory McIlroy by a stroke. Although he bogeyed No. 15 and 16 on the stretch to turn a three-stroke lead into a breathless run, Clark managed to slow down and refocus just in time.

McIlroy was steady, scoring the par at No. 18 to stay within striking distance. Clark was even more stable, tapping out at 18 for the most important part of his life, then shouting “yes” and pumping two punches in celebration of a career-changing win.

“I feel like I belong in that scene,” Clark said. “Even two or three years ago, when people didn’t know who I was, I felt like I could still play and play against the best players in the world. showing this year.

Maybe the adversity on the golf course doesn’t faze Clark because he’s been through far worse away from it. Lise Thevenet Clark died of breast cancer aged 55 in August 2013, sending her eldest son into a tailspin.

“I showed no emotion off the course, but when I was on the golf course, I couldn’t have been angrier,” Wyndham said. “I was breaking clubs when I hadn’t even landed such a bad shot. I was leaving the golf courses.

Lise was Wyndham’s confidante and an endless source of encouragement and positivity. Before she died, the mantra she instilled in Wyndham was to “play it big.”

Without his mother, Wyndham struggled with confidence. He was transferred from Oklahoma State to Oregon after a “very low point”. Then he had another rough patch early in his professional career when he again struggled to tap into his immense potential.

People would say to Clark, “Oh, you have such a good swing,” but he had no idea where the ball was going. Until last week, the 29-year-old Denver native had never made the cut at a US Open, or finished better in a major than a tie for 75th.

“Those early years of touring, I felt like I underperformed,” Clark said. “I’ve had several times where I’ve come home and screamed in my car and thrown my fists and so angry. I’m like, ‘Why can’t I do what are my peers doing?’ ”

Wyndham Clark celebrates on the 18th hole after winning the US Open golf tournament at the Los Angeles Country Club on Sunday, June 18, 2023 in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Matt York)

Wyndham Clark celebrates on the 18th hole after winning the US Open golf tournament at Los Angeles Country Club. (AP Photo/Matt York)

For Clark, the path to the US Open sterling silver trophy began in November when he began working with a mental coach. She instilled a sense of calm and conviction in Clark that he had been missing since his mother’s death.

It also helped Clark when he ditched the swing coaches he had worked with and took charge of his own swing. The vastly improved iron game fueled Clark’s rise this season, helping him to a top-25 finish and claim his first PGA Tour victory in May.

Clark was the outlier in a Sunday leaderboard filled with fan favorites and former great champions, but he never wondered if he belonged. Every time he heard someone sing “Rickie” or “Rory”, he went back to the advice he had received from his mental coach.

“Think about your goals and be cocky and go show them who you are,” she told Clark.

“I did that,” he said. “It felt like over 100 times today I was reminded of those goals.”

A tough back-and-forth on the eighth hole was a key point in Clark’s round as it allowed him to maintain a one-stroke lead on the turn. Then came a big two-shot swing at No. 14, Clark hitting a spectacular approach shot and birdie-tying minutes after McIlroy had his only bogey of the day on the hole.

Clark looked like he was in a comfortable position to win, but this is the US Open after all. He, in his words, “hit a terrible corner” at the short par-3 15th and became the only player in the field to bogey the hole. Then he walked into a bunker at No. 16 and narrowly missed a putt to save par.

“Although I did a few bogeys and it looked like the rails were coming loose, inside I was pretty calm,” he said.

On the 18th tee, one par away from a career-changing victory, Clark paced the fairway in front of him and formulated his plan of attack.

“Same shot as last three days,” caddie John Ellis told him. “Same wind, same club.”

Except there was nothing familiar about this moment for Clark. It was unlike anything he had experienced before. He found the fairway with his drive, then the green with his approach. Clark tore while walking the 18th fairway, but he leveled off once more. Two putts later, it was over. He will forever remain a great champion.

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