Two years ago on Tuesday, when the golf world was in turmoil and outrage, Wyndham Clarke was in no hurry to post a shocking and awe-inspiring Twitter post. In a meeting with the PGA Tour commissioner, he didn’t rant about a surprise deal with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. He never preached or criticized morality, and actually did very little other than golf.
His course of choice that Tuesday was the Los Angeles Country Club, where the U.S. Open, the first major, will be held in nine days. A member of the club was Clark’s caddy, a friend-turned-tutor who knew some of the secrets of the North Course that only a handful of the game’s great stars have seen. How hard will the fairway be?
The payoff came on Sunday evening, when Clark, 29, edged Rory McIlroy by one shot at the US Open, joining the hallowed fraternity of major championship winners. Through Sunday, Clarke’s best result in a major was a tie for 75th at the PGA Championship. His last two British Open appearances have been even worse, ending in miscuts.
But his mother, who died nearly a decade ago and was his “always-on supporter,” often gave him ambitious advice: “Go big.”
He’s emerged as a dangerous foe this tour season, suggesting that despite his major record, he could soon prove himself at the top of the game. With a few tweaks to his irons and his swing monitored and tweaked only by Clarke and his caddy, not a platoon of advisors, he won the Wells Fargo Championship and has four Top 10 finishes since early February. and arrived in Los Angeles. .
Wells Fargo’s victory at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina in May marked the end of rivals whose surnames McIlroy and Spieth and Scott and Day were synonymous with golfing geniuses even before Clarke graduated from college. It was a confrontation with an ominous list.
Victories at Quail Hollow, the site of past and future PGA Championships, have inspired Clarke. He reasoned that he beat a major champion on a major-level course.
“I feel like I can compete with the best players in the world,” he said last week. “And I consider myself one of them.”
Now he definitely is.
By the time Clark waits at the first tee box with Rickie Fowler, the narrowly but not quite the prince of golf, on Sunday afternoon in the other half of the final pair of the British Open, Clarke has been with his mother all week. adhered to the creed of He posted a 6-under 64 on Thursday, beating many major champions in 156-a-side majors, trailing behind with 67 and 69.
Fowler and Clark were both 10-under, good enough to share the lead heading into the final round. McIlroy, the four-time major champion, was caught by a stroke at sunrise on Sunday after a nine-year drought. World top-ranked Scotty Schaeffler was three backs from Clark and Fowler.
Clark took the lead by just four strokes. With its wide fairway and view of the Beverly Hilton, the 1st hole was one of his favorite spots throughout the tournament after starting the Open with a nearly 33-foot eagle putt. While he couldn’t accomplish the same feat on Sunday, the birdie was good enough to take the lead after McIlroy’s birdie briefly took the lead.
Clarke’s top time ended quickly, bogeying on the second hole for the second time this week. Fowler also bogeyed, setting off a slowdown for the player who hit a first-round record 62 at the Open on Thursday.
Clark birdied the first four of five par-3 tests on the course along Wilshire Boulevard to go to 11-under. McIlroy was 10 under and Fowler was 9 under. Schaeffler was solid but not spectacular, never changing the score in either direction.
The 6th hole was a par 4 with blind tee shots and tough terrain that kept players nervous for days. Clarke birdied there on Thursday but had pars on Friday and Saturday.
On Sunday afternoon, Clarke stood on the tee and shot 266 yards, trying to widen the gap between himself and the others. It was grassy, but not outrageous by the standards elsewhere on the course. He tilted his head to the left, stared at the pin about 54 feet away, looked down and swung. The ball slammed into the green and rolled over the cup, but he made a short putt for birdie and was two shots behind.
On the 8th hole, where Clarke’s advantage could have been completely undone, Clarke’s second shot landed on a foliage surrounded by greenery that would have been more acceptable with a sickle than a club. According to tournament officials, Clark’s first escape attempts were all eight inches. This amount seemed about eight inches too high. He escaped with a shot over the green into the right rough and eventually saved a bogey to cut his lead to one stroke.
Both Clarke and McIlroy played in the front 9 and finished 1-under 34. But the back nine hurt more for both players. Their place on the leaderboard remained unchanged until the 14th hole, when McIlroy’s wedge shot sent the ball into the side of a bunker. Given a free relief, he fell on Fescue near the hole, but had no choice but to bogey off the green.
Clark’s experience was much more pleasant, with his second shot remaining less than 20 feet to the pin of the par-5 hole, creating an opportunity for an eagle. Clark’s putt strayed to the right of the cup, but a subsequent birdie attempt missed, widening the margin to three.
It was short. Clark missed a par on the 15th hole and his tee shot on the 16th went into a bunker. The third was a dizzying wedge play, but a short putt was soon found and Clarke bogeyed twice in a row.
Losing by a stroke, McIlroy struggled on the green for much of the day, but his familiar anguish reappeared when he narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 17th hole, making it his first Open Championship since 2008. The chances of a playoff were a little further away.
Finishing at 9-under, McIlroy scored par on the final hole, where Clarke had either par or birdie in the first three rounds. The gallery knew that if Clark could stick to that history, he could become a major champion — and as Clark concluded last month, he was all but ready for it.
Par, stay at 10 under, finish at 10 under. his eyes were shining.
he was playing big.