Defending Champion Clark Seeks Elusive Return to Form

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| Jun 11, 2024 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

Defending Champion Clark Seeks Elusive Return to Form

This story is presented by Lexus

If Wyndham Clark had his way, he would be entering the defense of his first major championship victory, the 2023 U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club, in peak form.

Although Clark’s 2024 season includes a PGA Tour victory, two runner-up finishes and a tie for third, he has struggled over the past several weeks. It’s not just that the results aren’t there – a tie for 47th and two missed cuts, including at the PGA Championship – he is also having a tough time putting his finger on a solution.

“I know that it sounds like low expectations for the week, but honestly I’d love to just gain some momentum for the rest of the season,” said Clark, 30, of Denver, Colo. “I’d like to hit some good shots, have some good up and downs, make some key putts throughout the week, and play four solid rounds.  That’s what I’d love to do.”

One year ago, Clark outdueled Rory McIlroy down the stretch at LACC to win by one stroke, with world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler in solo third, three shots behind. When he returned the U.S. Open Trophy to the USGA on Sunday, he threw in a parting “See you in a week!” with a chuckle. He will begin his title defense on Thursday at 1:25 p.m. EDT, in the traditional pairing with Nick Dunlap, the 2023 U.S. Amateur champion who has since turned professional, and Brian Harman, the winner of the 2023 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

“I honestly don’t know,” said Clark on Monday when asked what has kept him from his top form. “You look at the stats and things look bad, yet in practice, it’s good. It’s been puzzling because I'll play 13 good holes, but I’m not getting much out of them, then I’ll have four or five not-so-good holes and end up shooting 1- or 2-over. My frustration level is higher than it’s been in a long time.”

Clark’s highlight of 2024 is a record-breaking round of 60 at Pebble Beach in winning the rain-shortened AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he stands fifth on the FedExCup points list, with the distinction of having finished second to Scheffler at both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship, and third to Scheffler at the RBC Heritage. At the moment, it’s not helpful to his cause to compare himself to the guy he’s been chasing much of the season.

“I would say my expectations are probably higher than anyone else has for me in this room,” said Clark, who launched himself into golf’s top tier one year ago, with his victories in the Wells Fargo in May and the U.S. Open in June. “I have to work on not putting so much pressure on myself. It’s obviously challenging being one of the top players, especially doing it as quickly as I did. There’s ebbs and flows in the game of golf. Guys like Scottie right now are making it look really easy; there’s a lot of other guys who struggle a lot of the weeks of the year and play well maybe just a few events.”

Clark spent a little time during a recent U.S. Open media event looking back on that magical week in Los Angeles capped by a victory that felt a bit like destiny, considering his late mother’s ties to the city and her exhortations to her son to embrace the big moment.

“I remember going from the intensity of the moment to trying to hold back tears once it set in and became reality,” said Clark, who had contemplated quitting the Tour after going four-plus seasons and more than 125 events without a victory. “I couldn’t hold back the emotions of pure joy and excitement, accomplishing one of my lifelong dreams.”

Once the whirlwind of the trophy ceremony and media obligations were complete, Clark had another vivid moment with family and friends.

Wyndham Clark has become a big fan favorite since his U.S. Open triumph last June at The Los Angeles Country Club. (USGA/Matt Hahn)

Wyndham Clark has become a big fan favorite since his U.S. Open triumph last June at The Los Angeles Country Club. (USGA/Matt Hahn)

“Much of it was a blur, and I don’t think the smile came off my face for two or three hours,” he said. “But when the woman came in to etch my name into the trophy, a friend grabbed me and said, ‘That’s forever.’ It’s something I hadn’t really thought about, but he understood the legacy of it.”

Clark’s long association with this championship added to the enormity of his accomplishment.

“Growing up, as a junior and an amateur golfer, the U.S. Open was the only major you could dream of playing in,” said Clark, a graduate of Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., who won the Pacific-12 Conference individual title for the University of Oregon after transferring from Oklahoma State. “I tried to qualify many times, made it to sectionals and missed out there by one shot on multiple occasions. I wanted to get in as an amateur, but never made it. That’s why, whether I win 10 majors or never win again, this will always be my most cherished moment in golf.”

Clark knows full well what it will take to contend – and perhaps even reunite with that trophy – this week at Pinehurst.

“I’m still doing a lot of good things in practice, which makes me feel like I’m not far,” said Clark. “That’s the great thing about golf: there’s always another week. I’ve got to believe that good golf is around the corner.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services at the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.