By Gary Baines
fter finishing second — but 11 strokes behind
champion Wyndham Clark — at the CGA Junior Stroke Play in 2009, Benjamin
Krueger made an amusing, but telling, comment about the winner.
were playing for second,” Krueger said at the time. “I played with (Clark) the first two rounds and
that 65 he shot (on day 2) was insane, crazy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he
turned pro before he got out of high school.”
Clark has long been ultra-talented for a long time — a crazy long hitter with a
velvety short game. And last month, if golf fans didn’t know that before, they
learned it as the Colorado native overcame a leaderboard full of big names to
win the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club.
victory came a month and a half shy of a decade after Clark’s mom, Lise, passed
away at age 55 after battling breast cancer.
know, I felt like my mom was watching over me today,” Clark said at the trophy
ceremony. “I miss you, mom.” Later he added, “All I really wish is that my mom
could be here, and I could just hug her, and we could celebrate together. But I
know she’s proud of me.”
the fifth time in the last 50 years, a player who grew up in Colorado captured
the U.S. Open title. Former University of Colorado golfers Hale Irwin, from
Boulder, did it in 1974, ’79 and ’90, and Steve Jones, from Yuma, in 1996.
Orville Moody, who was stationed at Fitzsimons Army base during his military
days, won the U.S. Open in 1969.
Coincidentally, like Clark, Irwin won his first
U.S. Open at age 29.
All in all, it’s not bad for a guy (Clark) who
before last month hadn’t finished better than 75th in a major championship.
feel like I’ve worked so hard and I’ve dreamed about this moment for so long,”
he said. “There’s been so many times I’ve visualized being here in front of you
guys and winning this championship. I just feel like it was my time.”
who came into the final round tied for the lead, led for the great majority of
Sunday, but needed to fend off one of the best players in the game — Rory
McIlroy — down the stretch. After a birdie on the tough par-5 14th — while
McIlroy made bogey — put Clark up by three, bogeys on 15 and 16 (with missed
putts of 8 and 7 feet, respectively) dropped the margin to one. But gutty pars
on 17 (an up and down) and 18 (via a two-putt from 60 feet with the green
surrounded by tens of thousands of fans) gave the Colorado native the title
over the Northern Irishman.
went 64-67-69-70 for a 10-under-par 270 total and a one-stroke win over
McIlroy, who also closed with a 70. Scottie Scheffler, the top-ranked golfer in
the world, placed third at 273.
the final putt on 18 fell, the emotion overwhelmed Clark as he hugged his
caddie (John Ellis, who’s competed in two U.S. Opens himself) and family,
fellow players and so many well-wishers. Among family on hand were his brother
and his sister.
“Dreams do come true,” noted NBC analyst Paul
know, U.S. Opens are tough,” Clark said. “… It’s tough on the back nine trying
to win the tournament. I felt at ease. I kept saying, ‘I can do this, I can do
this.’ That shot on 14 (the second one to set up a two-putt birdie on the
par-5) was kind of the shot of the week for me. Then grind it on the way in.”
month after his first PGA Tour victory — at the Wells Fargo Championship —
Clark joins Jon Rahm (four victories) and Scheffler (two) as multiple winners
on the PGA Tour in 2023. The Wells Fargo victory marked the first on the PGA
Tour by a Colorado-born golfer since Denver native Jonathan Kaye prevailed at the
Buick Classic in June 2003.
know, this is now my second win on the PGA Tour, and the first one was surreal
and this one is surreal,” Clark said. “It hasn’t quite hit me yet. Walking up
18 was pretty emotional, and then finishing. It’s been a whirlwind of the last
five, six weeks. Just so blessed and humbled to be here.”
certainly been quite a run for Colorado-born players over the last 15 months.
Jennifer Kupcho won a women’s major last year and her first three LPGA Tour
titles. Then Clark broke through in May on the PGA Tour and captured a men’s
major in June.
lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., now, but was born and raised in Colorado, playing
out of Cherry Hills Country Club back in the day. Among his notable victories
in the Centennial State are the CGA Amateur at age 16 at Boulder Country Club
in 2010, the Pac-12 Conference title in 2017, also at BCC, and two state high
school championships while attending Valor Christian. He also qualified in the
state for five U.S. Amateurs.
parents have some connection to the L.A. area, which made the week all the more
“It’s been a pretty amazing week because my mom
lived in L.A. for a few years and I’ve had some people come up to me and show
pictures of my mom when they knew her back in her 20s and early 30s when she
was living here,” Clark said. “That just happened this week, so it was kind of
a special vibe all week being here in L.A. My parents got married at Riviera
Country Club. I have some roots a little bit in this area.”
see the many accomplishments Clark has had in Colorado over the years, including
the pictured 2010 CGA Amateur title, CLICK HERE.
going certainly wasn’t always easy on Sunday, including on the eighth hole,
where Clark needy a nifty up and down to save bogey.
a leaderboard littered with big names — McIlroy, Scheffler, Cam Smith, Rickie
Fowler and Dustin Johnson, among others — it was Clark who recorded the
victory. Not unlike the Wells Fargo, where he emerged with a four-stroke
winning margin. And like the Wells Fargo, he earned a whopping $3.6 million.
McIlroy’s first two wins on the PGA Tour also came at the Wells Fargo and the
this victory, Clark is exempt for the next 10 U.S. Opens and the next five
Masters, PGA Championships and British Opens. He’ll have PGA Tour status for at
least the next five years.
addition, with the U.S. Open win, Clark jumped from 32nd to a career-best 13th
in the world golf rankings.
“I feel like I’m one of the best players in the world,” Clark said in the wake
of his victory.
earning his first major championship title, Clark did the media rounds in the
Northeast, including appearing on national networks.
really fun to represent Denver,” he said on the Fox News Channel. “It’s
been an awesome several days for Denver fans.” The Denver Nuggets won an NBA
title for the first time in franchise history last month.
all the scores from the U.S. Open, CLICK HERE.