From the Archive: Wyndham Clark opens up about the heartbreaking loss of his mother
Photo by Thierry Des Fontaines
THE SUMMER BEFORE my sophomore year in college, my mom was fighting breast cancer. I was a couple shots off the lead in the Western Amateur when my aunt called. My parents weren’t going to tell me since I was playing so well, but my mom’s health had taken a bad turn. Withdrawing to fly home to Colorado was the best decision I ever made. She died 20 hours after I received that call. When I returned to Oklahoma State University that fall, I continued to play solid golf, tried to stay strong, but that spring the grief boiled over. It hit me that I couldn’t call my mom anymore. Life off the course became hard, and I figured, Why have an outlet that adds to my emotional frustration? So I took a medical hardship to redshirt and stopped competing.
I’VE HEARD THE STORY A THOUSAND TIMES. How my mom brought me to a driving range when I was 3, and after I finished one bucket, I wanted another. But I don’t remember that. My earliest vivid golf memory is making a hole-in-one when I was 6. Driver from 125 yards. It was on a family trip to the mountains, so the thin air must’ve helped. My dad and I had a bet going that he’d buy me a PlayStation if I made an eagle, and he paid up.
I’M LUCKY TO HAVE ATHLETIC GENES. My dad played some professional tennis, and my mom could throw a perfect spiral and beat us all in pingpong. In every photograph until she’s 16, she looks like a boy. But then she transformed into this beautiful woman, and was Miss New Mexico USA in 1981.
SHE WAS A NATIONAL SALES DIRECTOR FOR MARY KAY, AND MY DAD WAS IN REAL ESTATE. We joined Cherry Hills Country Club when I was 9, and that’s when I really fell in love with golf. I’d be there from sunup to sundown. My dad never talked much about his tennis career—I know there were injuries and disappointment—but he said I had a gift that would be wasted if I didn’t put in the work. At dinner he’d ask, “How’d you get better today?” and I learned to always have an answer.
SUCCESS CAME EARLY FOR ME. I won my first of two state amateurs at 15. I made our varsity basketball team as a freshman but quit the following year to focus on golf. It was apparent which game would be my ticket to a great education, and maybe more. I had friends who were similarly focused. Of about 20 of us, a dozen went on to play Division I sports. And Christian McCaffrey is now the star running back for the San Francisco 49ers.
WHEN I WAS 16, I PLAYED THE PACIFIC COAST AMATEUR AT EUGENE COUNTRY CLUB IN OREGON. Typically, host families are older couples, often empty-nesters, but I was assigned to Jeff and Jamie Gaskill. Jeff is in the construction business. He and his wife were in their early 30s, no kids yet, and we had tons of fun. After every round, we played pool, shot hoops, went swimming, made up contests. When I returned to Oregon for recruiting trips, I’d stay with the Gaskills. Jeff and I kept in touch even after I decided to go to OSU.
AT OSU, IF YOU’RE A LITTLE OFF, SOMEONE ELSE IS ALWAYS ON. As one of the top programs in the country, a spot in the lineup is never secure. As I struggled after my mom’s death, I lost confidence in my golf. I thought the world of Coach and the guys, but I needed a change.
A LOT OF REASONS POINTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF OREGON. Not to sound arrogant, but I wanted to transfer to where I’d be the No. 1 player. The head coach, Casey Martin, had gone through so much adversity with his leg in his playing career, I thought he’d be a good mentor in resilience. Aaron Wise had just won the NCAA individual title as a Duck, and I didn’t recall him as a standout player in high school, so it seemed there might be some special sauce cooking up there.
WHEN THE GASKILLS INVITED ME TO LIVE WITH THEM, I SAID NO. But then it occurred to me I’d be a fifth-year senior who didn’t know a soul. My mind was going to be on preparing to turn pro, not partying and making friends. It might get very lonely in the dorms. So I decided to live with them, and their young daughters became like my little sisters. Life was good again. So was golf.
PICKING AN AGENT IS A BIT LIKE PICKING A COLLEGE. They all give the same pitch, so you go with word of mouth from other golfers, and your gut. The best move is an early one. I got an agent the January before I graduated. There are rules, but this allows them more time to land you sponsor invitations into PGA Tour fields.
TECHNICALLY, I TURNED PRO BEFORE I TOOK MY FINAL EXAMS. It wasn’t until I arrived at my first event, the Travelers Championship near Hartford, that my world changed. All my new clothes were there in a box. I walked out with my new bag in front of a grandstand with thousands of people. Being alone in a courtesy car instead of a bus with my teammates. It shocked my system, and, of course, I missed the cut.
BUT I’M STARTING TO GET COMFORTABLE. I spent only one season on the Web.com Tour. I held my first 54-hole PGA Tour lead at the 2019 Honda Classic. I’ve already learned so much watching how guys score. The importance of having a shot that will hit the fairway even if it looks ugly. How to grind out a cut and manage nerves with shot selection.
I’VE HAD THE SUPPORT OF SO MANY PEOPLE. But none more than my mom. She remains my motivation for playing.
—WITH MAX ADLER