McCabe: Clark’s unexpected role at Prez Cup

Tim Clark

From the perspective that his season’s goal will be realized – he will be with the International Team at the Presidents Cup – Tim Clark can smile.

Through the pain and anguish, however.

Fact is, it won’t be the way he had planned it. He didn’t start the 2011 season thinking about being an assistant to captain Greg Norman, but that is the hand he has been dealt, and he’ll make the best of it.

“I’m extremely honored,” Clark said, “to think that (Norman) sees me in that light.”

It’s hard to envision Clark in any other light, to tell the truth, because on any list of dogged competitors, the 35-year-old South African has to rank near the very top. Against fields filled with bombers and power, Clark has employed precision and finesse and made it work with model consistency. Having finished second eight times in six years, he finally broke through to win in 2010 on one of golf’s most glamorous stages, The Players Championship, and that made him look forward even more to 2011.

Armed with new Titleist equipment, Clark said, “I had never been as excited going into a season.”

Though rusty from a layoff, he finished middle of the pack at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, then nearly won the next week at the Sony Open.

“I didn’t even play that great for two days in (Honolulu), but I played well for 36 holes Sunday,” Clark said. “I left Hawaii thinking this was going to be an amazing year, and I was so excited about playing.”

Eight months later, he calls it a “lost year,” thanks to a pain in his right elbow that he felt for the first time the morning after he got back from the Sony Open.

An MRI revealed a bit of tendinitis, “classic tennis elbow,” he said. Rest was the course of action, at least until the Masters, when the lure of Augusta National was too much. He played two rounds, missed the cut, then went back to his Arizona home to rest some more. As defending champion, Clark tried to play The Players Championship, but ended up withdrawing 10 holes into Round 2.

That’s been it for golf in 2011. He went for another MRI, which revealed a worsening tendinitis, possibly a tear. Surgery was prescribed, Clark had it done Aug. 2. Now, his arm is bandaged “from fingers to shoulder, and I can’t move it at all.”

He hasn’t touched his clubs since leaving Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on May 13.

OK, the favorable slice of the story: Jack Clark, their first child, was born April 1 to Tim and Candace, and dad has been able to spend plenty of time with his son, something he had not expected to be possible, given the travel demands of his profession. “From that perspective, it’s been really good,” Clark said, “but there are times when I’ve missed being out there.”

One could argue that the Tour has missed him, too, because for all the times media attention is focused on long hitters and the power game, watching Clark do his thing is often a joy. There has been a steady stream of top 10s – 44, to be exact – since 2002, and that says a lot about the way he manages his game.

He’ll be a great addition to the Presidents Cup team. But he’ll be an even greater addition to the PGA Tour landscape come January.

While we’re on the topic of sore spots with players, here’s guessing that many of those people questioning Rory McIlroy’s decision to play his shot from the vicinity of a tree root just three holes into the PGA Championship probably are the same ones who criticized Charl Schwartzel and Jon Brendle at the Memorial Tournament.

To refresh memories, Schwartzel’s ball had come to rest perilously close to a submerged sprinkler head to the left of the 11th fairway. Wanting to play a long, hard shot into a par 5, Schwartzel summoned Brendle, a PGA Tour rules official, and asked for relief. Schwartzel’s concern was valid; he was fearful of striking the sprinkler head and causing injury. Doing his due diligence, Brendle talked over the situation, explored Schwartzel’s intended path of the swing, and made the correct call – relief was granted, and for the most sensible of reasons. Better to be safe than risk a serious injury.

Now McIlroy, unlike Schwartzel, was not in position to ask for relief. A tree root is a different issue than a submerged sprinkler head. But Schwartzel’s fear is now McIlroy’s concern as there are those who’ll tell you that a wrist injury is one of the worst ailments a golfer can suffer.

McIlroy, of course, played his shot but did damage to his right wrist, and Schwartzel noted the danger that such a decision involves. One week earlier, at the Bridgestone Invitational, Schwarzel said he faced a similar problem: his ball was among trees, and to go forward would have meant swinging in the path of a root.

“I had a shot at the green, with an 8-iron, but I told my caddie it wasn’t worth it,” Schwartzel said. “There’s too much golf ahead to risk just one shot.”

Whether McIlroy will regret not making the same sort of safe decision remains to be seen. But it demonstrates why Schwartzel was right to ask for, and Brendle correct to grant, relief back at the Memorial.

Courtney Streelman, wife of Kevin, is part of the PGA Tour Wives’ Association that quietly does massive charitable work throughout the country. In most cases, it’s a labor of love, but come Oct. 9-10, it will be personal for Courtney.

“You always feel bad for people, but when you see how it hits your home, selfishly, it becomes personal,” she said.

A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Streelman has been back home to see the damage caused by tornadoes. Moved to do something about it, she is helping to organize a charity golf tournament at Indian Hills Country Club in Tuscaloosa. In addition to her husband, Courtney has gotten commitments from Mark Wilson, Steve Marino, Johnson Wagner, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, Glen Day, Jerry Pate and Charlie Rymer, and proceeds will be split among four charitable agencies.

“Twelve percent of the city was destroyed,” Courtney Streelman said. “Something like 7,000 homes and businesses. It’s devastating.”

Two parting shots of the newest major champion, Keegan Bradley, from those who’ve known him a lot longer than most others in the world of golf: Mike Dunphy, the player development manager for Cleveland/Srixon; and Frank Darby, Bradley’s head coach at St. John’s.

A few years ago, Dunphy was out watching a Hooters Tour tournament when he saw Bradley miss a putt, then toss the putter and stomp off the green.

“It was normal stuff. I didn’t think anything of it,” Dunphy said. “But later, Keegan came up to me and said, ‘I want to apologize. I’m so embarrassed, but I want you to know that’s not me.’ ”

Dunphy said he was struck by Bradley’s sincerity. He told the golfer not to worry, that he thought it showed his competitive spirit.

“I told him, ‘You’re playing for your livelihood here. You don’t have to apologize.’ But he insisted he had to apologize. I knew right there that he was something special.”

Darby, like most coaches, keeps in touch with his former players. But we’re not sure a lot of former players sent emails to their coach to be relayed to a team of players he doesn’t really know. But here’s part of what Bradley said in an email to Darby and the players earlier this year:

“There is nothing I am more proud of than St. John’s. I hope you guys feel the same. I feel unique when I tell people I went to St. John’s in Queens. It is something to be proud of.

“Many people wrote me off because I went to St. John’s. I know for a fact if I didn’t go to St. John’s I wouldn’t be where I am today in my golf career. Be proud of St. John’s and your golf team. My best friends to this day are my teammates I had at SJU. You guys are a team and the more you stick together, treat each other that way, the better you will play.”

A major champion, indeed.

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