• • •
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Wyndham Clark gave a very simple explanation for his strong play this year.
“I mainly tackled the mental side of the game a lot more,” Clark said Feb. 25 while waiting to collect a team trophy at the John Hayt Collegiate Invitational.
And how did you do that?
“Well,” Clark said, clearing his throat. “I had a lot of adversity last year.”
And then Clark said the words that will make any heart drop: “My mom passed away six months ago.”
Suddenly the appreciation for what Clark, 20, has accomplished inside the ropes this season reached into another stratosphere. More importantly, his aura, the pleasant, mature manner in which Clark handled heavy and light questions alike offered a window into the level of growth this young man experienced over the last year.
His great heart.
“He’s a pleasure to coach,” said Alan Bratton, Oklahoma State’s coach, calling Clark “a wonderful kid.”
About this time one year ago, Lise Clark was diagnosed with a rare form of stage-3 breast cancer. Before that, she had been a 14-year cancer survivor. But this time, her son said, doctors didn’t know what to do, and the cancer progressed quickly.
Clark pulled out of the Western Amateur in July to be with his mother at their home in Colorado. The former Lise Thevenet, a one-time Miss New Mexico, died Aug. 2. She was 55.
“He went straight from her funeral to the U.S. Am,” said Bratton, who caddied for Clark that week. “It was amazing he was able to compete.”
Bratton said Clark wanted to play well for his mom, and scraped and clawed his way around The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., finishing tied for ninth in stroke play before losing in the first round.
For those who have not lost a parent, it’s difficult to imagine how they’d react. Especially at the tender age of 19.
The manner in which Clark has emerged as a leader on this talent-rich Oklahoma State Cowboys team – he’s fourth in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings – speaks to his resilience. Not to mention his new perspective.
“Things I used to get mad about on the golf course don’t happen as often or as easy,” said Clark, who was able to redshirt last season.
The 10-stroke victory at the Hayt was Oklahoma State’s fourth of the season. One thing that Bratton liked about this victory was that the Cowboys didn’t rely on the spectacular play of one individual. They had four players finish among the top 10 at Sawgrass Country Club: Zachary Olsen (T-3), Talor Gooch (fifth), Clark (T-6) and Jordan Niebrugge (T-8).
That’s now five consecutive top-6 finishes for Clark, who shot 70-73-70 for a 3-under 213 total, eight strokes behind runaway winner Greg Eason of second-place Central Florida. A victory for Clark seems only a matter of time.
“This week was probably one of the better tournaments I’ve played in terms of controlling my emotions and adversity,” Clark said. “To be honest, I hit it really poorly this week.”
The standard that Clark sets for himself is high, Bratton said. Although it’s exciting to watch Clark’s competitive nature play out at a tournament, Bratton said watching him practice at home in Stillwater is what’s really fun.
“He’s fired up trying to think about ways to get better,” said Bratton, a former All-American for the Cowboys.
Clark, a self-fixer on the range and the course, keeps in contact with his instructor but does a fair amount of thinking alone at their home course, Karsten Creek.
Rare is the student-athlete, Bratton said, who takes initiative and ownership of his game while still being open to suggestions.
“I think that’s one of the things that separates him,” he said.
That and a deep desire to honor mom.