For Wyndham Clark, perseverance — and a chip on his shoulder — has paid off in a big way
At 29, Wyndham Clark nabbed his first two Tour wins and a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup squad. The lesson? Perseverance — and a chip on your shoulder — pays off.
(This interview was originally published in the Sept/Oct 2023 issue of GOLF.)
Setting: On the range at Royal Liverpool, Wednesday of Open Championship week.
Sean Zak: When it comes to golf, you’re a top-15 player in the world, but where would you rank your fishing skills?
Wyndham Clark: Right now, I’m probably a 1 or 2 handicap. I haven’t practiced, but if I’m on a seven-day fishing trip, by day six or seven I feel like I can get to a plus-1. I’d get to where I’m country-club good. I could never beat the pro, but I could go out on my own.
SZ: Okay, we’ll bring it back to golf. People see your sudden rise —topped by this year’s U.S. Open win at LACC — and think, I didn’t see Wyndham Clark coming. Did you see it coming?
WC: Obviously, I always believed it could happen. But where my head was mentally [last] fall — where I had a chance to win a few times but I was mad and broke a few clubs and was sabotaging good finishes, had a chance at three top-5 finishes but finished all of them outside the top 10 — it sometimes seemed so distant. I’ve always believed I had the ability. I have the distance. I hit my irons well. I have a good wedge game, good short game, good putting. I had all the things that would add up to it. But mentally I don’t know if I was there. I just feel like I’ve started to match all that ability with a good mental game.
SZ: When you look back to your first of two wins this season, at Wells Fargo, what is the memory that stands out?
WC: When I won it, it was the biggest thing I had done in my professional career. That seemed bigger than anything. It means a lot because, just to break through and win one tournament, that was weighing on me more than anything. This was my fifth year on Tour, and I had a bunch of chances to win and a lot of people were talking about “How have you not won?” To finally do that was the biggest sigh of relief. To do it at an elevated event was even better. You fast-forward to winning the U.S. Open, it kind of belittles [the Wells Fargo] win a little bit, but, in my mind, it will never do that. That’s what propelled me to win and to be where I am today.
SZ: At your Friday press conference at the U.S. Open, there were two reporters: my GOLF co-worker and me. On Saturday, the press crew grew bigger, then on Sunday it got really big. As more and more people paid attention that week, how did you manage your emotions?
WC: It’s kind of funny. It’s more that I get a chip on my shoulder, because that just shows you not many people had any belief that I could do something like that — especially, in their mind, that I did not have [the necessary] experience in a major. But a major is only a major in your mind. I’ve played tons of U.S. ams, big college tournaments and, obviously, big professional events. However you want to view it, something can be a major. It’s funny how [the attention] grew like that. After day 2, I was leading the tournament. After day 3, I’m leading the tournament and people were still, “Rickie, Rory, Scottie.” I was like, “Let’s see who has all the people at the end.” Now I won’t always be in that underdog position, but I’ll still have that chip on my shoulder because I feel like a lot of people have written me off over the years, and I didn’t get the recognition I believed I should. Now, it’s just really satisfying to show them how good I am.
I feel like a lot of people have written me off over the years. Now, it’s just really satisfying to show them how good I am.
SZ: Post U.S. Open victory, how was the Sunday-night celebration?
WC: It was awesome. The USGA put on a great celebration afterward, right in the player services area. They had music going, a bunch of alcohol, then they collected everyone that was part of my crew. Let’s say we had 60 people in there drinking, celebrating, talking about fun things, and then the lady etched my name on the trophy. We were all surrounding her, and once she finished it we all grabbed it and poured something in there and all started drinking. From there, it was just a boozefest. I reckon 100 people or more drank out of that trophy. From there, we went to a club in Beverly Hills and then, yeah, I don’t remember much of the night.[Laughs.]
SZ: A part of winning a major is that you suddenly get placed into featured groupings, like here at the Open Championship. Does it feel as if you’ve reached a new level of status on Tour?
WC: I think, before, a lot of people wouldn’t really know who I was. Or I’d be playing with friends of mine who, let’s say, had the status. In practice rounds, kids would be sitting there, and I’d be walking by to sign something and they’re like, “No, I want so-and-so’s [autograph].” Now, they see me and things have changed. It’s changed within the ropes and outside the ropes. It’s a lot fun because it’s what you dream of.
SZ: You booked your ticket to the Ryder Cup with the U.S. Open win. Is that something you’d thought a lot about?
WC: At the beginning of the year, that wasn’t even on the radar. When we won Wells Fargo, it was, honestly, the first time it even came up. My agent was like, “Hey, you’re 10th or ninth for the Ryder Cup.”
SZ: Who would you like to play with?
WC: There’s a lot of Scottsdale guys that I play a lot of golf with, like Tony [Finau] and Max [Homa], that I’m friends with. Brooks [Koepka] and I have a good relationship. I doubt they’re going to break apart the Xander [Schauffele] and [Patrick] Cantlay pairing, but I’m friends with Xander. There’s a bunch of guys I have good relationships with. I just think in those events, guys that gel well together play well together.
SZ: Are you the kind of player who wants to hit the 1st tee shot in a foursomes match?
WC: I’d want it. I’ve played in the Waste Management [Phoenix Open], where there’s a ton of people and noise, and I thrive on that stuff. It gives me the energy and excitement to hit a great shot. Obviously, I haven’t played in any team events, but I’ve been to opposing gyms in high school, where, hey, they’re yelling worse stuff than they will at the Ryder Cup.