In the flurry of heated reactions and overreactions that is golf Twitter, I saw comparisons to Stewart Cink, Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson, and Todd Hamilton flash before my second screen as the sun set on the 123rd U.S. Open. I’m sure there were a few more I just missed in the scrolling. There was a clear sense of letdown and tinge of disappointment based on the possibilities on the leaderboard at Los Angeles Country Club. It had nothing to do with Wyndham Clark, your champion at LACC, but more to do with those who walked off beaten.
And that’s arguably the greatest testament to Clark’s achievement and retort to those unfulfilled by his winning. On a crisping layout that was giving less and less late in the day, Clark had Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Cam Smith, and Rickie Fowler breathing on him to various degrees, and he beat them all. That achievement cannot be doubted or discredited.
Clark hit the shots, and when he didn’t, he recovered. He did it with an up-and-down for a “bogey save” at the eighth, which he cited as a pivotal moment when it all could have come apart. He did it with a creative chip shot into the slope of the green at 9 and a lengthy par-saving put. He did it with a beautiful chip up the hill at the 11th that nearly went in the hole. He did it at the 13th, muscling one from the rough on one of LACC’s toughest holes to get on the green in two. He did it with a perfect chip at the 17th after getting lucky off a pulled approach, and did it again with a perfect lag at the 18th. Clark is thought of as a modern power player who smashes it all over the yard, but he would not have won Sunday if not for his creativity and skill around the greens.
The power was there, however, when he needed it. He piped his drive on 14 and absolutely nuked his approach from 282 yards, which shot through a neck that’s just eight paces across. A birdie was the worst he could do, and the shot stood in contrast to McIlroy dumping a gap wedge into the face of the bunker on the same hole. It is certainly one area you could pinpoint as the difference.
There was a lot to like about Clark on Saturday night, after he pulled off one of the more vigorous club twirls to get back into the final group and then went in and straight called out the USGA for sending them out so late they had to play “twilight golf.” That kind of distraction would tank many untested players on a leaderboard with some real sharks. Clark came back and played the best again over the final 18.
There was more to like on Sunday night, not just because of the trophy in his hands, but this kind of quote that any golf sicko could love:
“My first few years on tour it actually really bothered me because people would say, ‘Oh, you have such a great swing,’ and I didn’t know where the ball was going, and that was really frustrating for me. I worked with some great coaches and they were very good at what they do, but I didn’t know where the ball was going and I didn’t own it.
“So when I decided to go on my own—I do work a little bit with my caddie, but typically it’s on my own—I learned about my game and my swing, and that’s what I did when I was younger. I knew how to hit shots and I got away from that when I was with a coach.
“Now when I’m in practice, I’m always trying to get back to neutral. So if one day it’s really cutty, I’m hitting huge draws on the range. And then some days it gets kind of too dry and I hit huge cuts and get it back to neutral, and honestly that’s what I’ve done for the last year and a half. And so I felt like I’ve kept my swing in those parameters to where regardless I can play good golf if I’m hitting a little draw or a little cut, and my stats have improved immensely by doing that.”
This is the good stuff and not the mindset of some optimized power robot—owning your swing like you did when you were a kid and working the ball both ways.
Clark is stating the obvious when he says his stats have improved, but it’s to an almost unheard-of level, especially on approach and ball-striking. The stats have also improved on his Wikipedia page, where his meager record in majors previously featured a best finish of T-75 in just six starts. Whether he’s Todd Hamilton or on the start of a Brooks Koepka run is immaterial. He faced a U.S. Open crucible against some of the heaviest hitters in the game, and he beat them all.