At 3 years old, an excited Wyndham Clark went with his mother to the driving range to hit a couple buckets of golf balls. Three years later, he hit his first hole in one.
It was at that moment when Clark fell in love with the sport of golf. He credits his mother for helping him pursue his passion and being one of his biggest support systems growing up.
Fast forward to the present. Clark, a redshirt senior, is now the No. 2-ranked collegiate golfer in the nation and has led Oregon back to the national championship in his first year with the team. But when the Ducks take to the championship course in Sugar Grove, Illinois, on Saturday, Clark will be playing for more than a title. He’ll be playing for his mother, Lise Clark, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2013.
“She’s a lot of the reason why I play today,” Clark said. “She was there when I played bad, and there to console me and make me feel better. When I played great she was there to hug me and be super excited for me. She was a huge part of my upbringing.”
Clark was a freshman playing golf for Oklahoma State when his mother passed away.
“I contemplated quitting the game,” Clark said, who redshirted that year for medical reasons. “It just wasn’t as much of a priority for me after she passed. It got to where it was really hard and just not enjoyable. But I know that she wouldn’t want me to do that.”
Ten days after the death of his mother, however, Clark competed in the U.S. Amateur Championship. Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton caddied for him, even though it wasn’t an college event. Clark tied for ninth in a field of more than 300.
“With what he was going through, losing his mom right before that, it was incredible to see the passion he took to the game,” Bratton said.
The year following the loss of his mother, Clark put together an incredible redshirt freshman season. He was named a first-team All-American by Golfweek and Big 12 Player of the Year. He tied for 42nd place at the NCAA Championships that year.
After two more seasons at Oklahoma State, Clark decided it was time for a change of scenery and set his sights on Oregon.
“I think he just felt like he was spinning his wheels a little bit,” Bratton said. “He’s certainly been right on target. The change of scenery has been awesome for him.”
At Oregon, Clark reconnected with head coach Casey Martin, whom Clark felt could get him back on the right path and prepare him for a career in professional golf.
“He’s fought some things in his career in regards to his golf swing that he is continually battling, and trying to get better so he can be a more consistent player,” Martin said.
Martin introduced Clark to his current swing coach, Jeff Smith, who has helped Clark understand the shortcomings of his game.
“He’s helped me so much with my game, especially with controlling the ball,” Clark said. “That was a definite weakness of mine growing up and even a year ago it was.”
Clark took first place in three events this season and finished outside the top-10 only once. He became Oregon’s first Pac-12 Championships individual champion finisher since 1978 and was the first player from Oregon to be named as a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award, a prestigious end-of-year player-of-the-year award. He lost out to Stanford senior Maverick McNealy, but won a $16,000 grant for Oregon.
“I was hoping I was going to win but really it’s just a win being there,” Clark said. “I just felt fortunate and honored to be a finalist. It was a great experience.”
Clark’s next step in life will be a professional golf career. He is continually working toward his goal of being one of the best players in the world, knowing his mother is watching over him.
“She’s really helped me get through a lot of tough things since she’s passed,” Clark said. “I want to honor her and honor what she wanted me to do, and try to make her proud.”
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter @zlast3445