Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the Nov. 7 issue of Golfweek.
Time is a healer. Randall Clark believes that. But when his son, Wyndham, fell into a dark and broken place after his mother died, it took more than time to ease the pain.
“Can you persevere?” Randall asked. “Do you have enough grit to persevere and push through and stay believing in a long-term perspective?”
Wyndham, a man of faith, played what he calls “inspired golf” at Oklahoma State in the months following his mother’s death. Lise Thevenet Clark died of breast cancer at age 55, and Wyndham strove to honor his mother’s fighting spirit by becoming the Big 12 Player of the Year as a redshirt freshman. Clark finished the 2013-14 season ranked No. 9 by Golfweek.
The emotional play, however, soon wore off.
“Candidly, he then fell off a cliff,” Randall said.
As did his ranking, which plummeted to 241 – tough to handle under any circumstances, but especially at storied Oklahoma State. He considered quitting the game.
“That’s when I really started to dig into my faith,” Wyndham Clark said.
With mentoring from Eric Nelson of Athletes in Action and swing coach Craig Koy, Wyndham began to claw his way back. To really get where he needed to be, however, he believed a change of scenery was in order.
Clark asked for a release to transfer his senior year. He then called Oregon coach Casey Martin, who had recruited him in high school. It just so happened Martin had an unexpected hole in his lineup after junior Aaron Wise turned pro immediately after winning the 2016 NCAA Championship and leading the Ducks to a team title.
Clark figured Martin could help prepare him for the PGA Tour, and a new school environment offered a fresh start.
“I thought if I go to a new place,” said Clark, “they won’t really know about my story and what happened to my mom.”
Martin couldn’t sign him fast enough. The first order of business was to remove the clutter from Clark’s mind and straighten out his driver. The Ducks coach sent Clark to Las Vegas to see Martin’s personal swing coach, Jeff Smith, who also had worked with Wise.
In trying to gain accuracy, Clark gained distance too. Martin calls him “freakishly long” and lauds his dynamic short game. Clark’s swing speed now hovers around 123-125 mph, and his ball speed can hit the low 180s.
The driver has turned from weakness to weapon. He can overpower a golf course, worrying less about a missed fairway.
Martin, a former PGA Tour player and Tiger Woods teammate at Stanford, takes on Clark a couple times a week at practice in Eugene.
“He pushes me,” said Clark, who doesn’t like losing to his smack-talking coach. Randall believes his son, finally healthy from his head down to his heart, feels less pressure than in his entire college career.
“Casey has been this blessed blend of encourager, golf-whisperer, inspiration,” said Randall. “He has just been pouring love and belief into Wyndham.”
Freshman nerves returned for Clark at the start of the fall semester because he didn’t know anyone in the program other than Martin. The Ducks team immediately embraced their new No. 1.
“When I talk about Aaron, it’s a motivator for him,” said Martin. “He wants to be that guy this year. He’s not afraid of that.”
Casey has been this blessed blend of encourager, golf-whisperer, inspiration. … He has just been pouring love and belief into Wyndham.
Martin knew that with the Ducks hosting NCAAs in 2016, they’d face a unique kind of hometown pressure. He brought in Jay Brunza – a sports psychologist who has worked with Woods – to work with the team. Given their success in June, it’s no surprise Brunza is back this fall. Martin’s job is to make sure Clark stays relaxed.
“The next level for him is to be a little softer on himself,” Martin said.
At 22, Clark has endured more hardship than most his age. The refining has made him a more mature top-ranked player the second time around.
“I’m just so happy to see him happy again,” Randall said.