When Windham Clarke was a child, her mother, Reese, would carry short letters in her knapsack to get her in the mood or motivate her during the day. Clark tried to hide the note from his classmates, especially in his younger years, because it was a subject of teasing.
In an interview ten years after she died of breast cancer at age 55, Reese Clark would often say, “If I could get that memo now, I would do anything.”
But Clark, one of the top finishers from the second round of this week’s U.S. Open, has no trouble recalling at least one of his mother’s most haunting messages about his professional golf career.
“When my mom was sick,” Clark, 29, said Friday. Play for something bigger than yourself. You have a platform to witness, help, or be a role model for many. ”
“And I’ve taken that to heart. When I’m playing outside, I want to do it for her.”
Clarke evoked the memory after two great rounds in a row at the US Golf Championships at the Los Angeles Country Club. After a glorious 64 in Thursday’s first round, Clark posted a 3-under 67 to keep him at the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard in the hours before a wave of golfers teeed off on Friday afternoon. .
Clarke’s outstanding play was no fluke. In the 2022-23 season, he finished in the top 10 six times on the PGA Tour and has steadily climbed the world golf rankings. The 32nd-ranked Clarke, who won her first Tour title at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C. last month, said the win had given her a lot of faith in herself.
“For me it was big. It felt like a major championship,” he said Friday. “I feel like I can compete with the best players in the world and I see myself as one of them.”
A few years ago, Ms. Clark didn’t have the same confidence. In the months since his mother, who taught him how to play golf as a toddler, passed away, Clark has struggled on and off the course.
Clarke said he ran off the golf course after a bad game, saying, “I just ran as fast as I could. I didn’t even know where I was going.”
“The pressure of golf and not having my mom or anyone to call was really tough,” he said after last month’s win at Wells Fargo.
He failed one after another, dropped out of Oklahoma State University, and eventually settled at the University of Oregon. Slowly, he said, he found his equilibrium. He made his PGA Tour debut in 2017, and while it took him some time to get used to the ups and downs of life as a professional golfer, by last season his play was consistently earning more than $1.5 million in prize money.
“I was building my confidence bit by bit, which is of course very important in this game or in any profession,” Clark said.
His confidence showed when he played the devilish par-5 14th hole at the LA Country Club on Friday. Clark’s second shot landed in the deep rough about 30 yards in front of the green. His third shot required a gutsy flop shot from a sketchy lie, landing on a very fast, sloping green with spin and precision.
He kept his shot on the green and sank a 13-foot putt for a nice birdie. With a big smile on his face after the round, Clark admitted that his third shot was “very dangerous.”
In a typical PGA Tour event, he estimated he would hit the shot 70 percent of the time. But with Friday’s round under the pressure of a U.S. Open, the odds of avoiding a bogey were “pretty low because it’s nerve-wracking,” Clark said.
But Clark insisted he never hesitated about which shot to try.
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“I want to do that for her when she’s playing outside,” Clark said of her mother. “I want to tell people who I am and what I enjoy playing.
“Yesterday I was walking the fairway and I was kind of smiling because I played well. And I say, ‘Mom, I wish you were here to do this at the highest level. is a dream come true.”
Furthermore, he added: “But I know she is proud of me. Everything she does here is important to her.”