How Wyndham Clark went from ‘who’s he?’ to major golf champion — starting in Charlotte

A year ago, Wyndham Clark was a 29-year-old pro on the PGA Tour still trying to find his way, trying to find a way to win as he went to the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.

A year later, his introduction Thursday on the first tee at Quail Hollow Club will be: “The defending Wells Fargo champion and the 2023 U.S. Open champion …”

Life comes at you fast in sports. It did for Clark, who made the 2023 Wells Fargo his first tour win, used that added battle-tested confidence to get him through the U.S. Open and then won again at Pebble Beach in early February this year.

Clark has zoomed to third in the World Golf Ranking. The Denver native played on the 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He has become financially set, his name a lot better known.

“It has been a crazy year,” Clark said Monday. “I went from 150th in the world, no wins, to now three wins and a major championship. Yeah, it’s been an amazing year and I achieved a lot of the goals I had in such a short time.

“I had learned a lot of ways to not win. There was a lot of hard work and sweat and tears and anger and frustration for four or five years leading up to winning at Quail Hollow.”

Pitstop at Pinehurst

Clark made a stop in Pinehurst for a few days before heading to Charlotte. The U.S. Open is again being hosted by Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, again being played on the No. 2 Course, and Clark wanted another looksee at the famed course with the championship roughly a month away.

Clark said he was 15 years old when he last played No. 2, and on a hot, sticky summer day.

His impression now, after a round Sunday?

“Obviously, the challenge is the greens,” Clark said Monday at a U.S. Open media day. “This place, the greens are the defense, like Augusta National. I could still see someone hit a lot of fairways and it may not matter. You can be in the middle of a fairway with a wedge in your hands and wind up walking away with a 6 or 7 because you got too aggressive or hit a wayward shot.

“There’s not one iconic hole at Pinehurst, but this place has 18 amazing golf holes. … This place will definitely be a testament to who’s patient and puts it in the right spots and doesn’t get too aggressive. Patience will be the key. The best word for a U.S. Open is ‘grind.’ It’s all a grind.”

None of that mattered to Germany’s Martin Kaymer in 2014, when the U.S. Open was last staged at Pinehurst. Then 29, Kaymer was a wire-to-wire leader and won by eight shots with some near flawless play, turning a major championship into a four-day snore.

‘That’s for life’

It was decidedly tougher for Clark last year at Los Angeles Country Club. He said Monday that of the 10 best shots he has hit in his career, maybe nine of them came in the last two days of the Open.

Clark began with a 64 the first day, which was two shots behind the record-setting 62s shot by Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele. He was tied for the lead with Fowler after 54 holes, but used an even-par 70 in the final round for a winning 10-under 270 total.

“After winning (in Charlotte), it’s amazing what that does for you mentally, just believing you can do that and play at a high level,” Clark said.

Clark two-putted from 60 feet for par on the 18th hole to edge Rory McIlroy by one shot and get his hands on the big silver trophy.

Clark said as a kid he always envisioned himself making a final putt to win the Open and then firing off an uppercut like one of his heroes, Tiger Woods.

“That’s what I dreamed of when I was on the putting greens,” he said, smiling. “I’d make a 20-footer to win it and do an epic Tiger fist pump. Mine was an epic two-putt and tap-in.”

As he later watched his name being engraved on the U.S. Open trophy, Clark said an older friend grabbed him and said, “That’s for life. That’s forever.” That hit home, he said.

But it was an emotional win for Clark in every regard. He thought of his mother, a former actress and Mary Kay executive who died of breast cancer when he was in college. Lise Clark was the one who first taught Wyndham the game, who would leave him encouraging notes of support in his backpack, and he was inconsolable for a long time after her death.

“As the week unfolded, feeling her presence … “ Clark said. “It was just an amazing week, one of the best weeks of my life.”

Clark was soon off to Charlotte. He’ll soon be back.

Also at Pinehurst will be Clark’s golf hero as Tiger Woods was given a special exemption to play the Open by the U.S. Golf Association.

The work continues at the course. The grandstands are going up. It’s almost time for the big show again.

“I’m hoping for another amazing week,” Clark said.

124th U.S. Open Golf Championship

When: June 13-16, 2024.

Where: Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, Village of Pinehurst.

Venue: Pinehurst No. 2 Course, Par 70