Colorado native Wyndham Clark, on eve of his first Ryder Cup: ‘Dreams really do come true’; competing in event on foreign soil will be a big challenge
By Gary Baines – 9/28/2023
It’s an unusual situation in golf — playing in an overwhelmingly hostile environment. Not just an occasional rogue fan or heckler, mind you, but thousands upon thousands of spectators boisterously rooting for your opponents — and against you.
It’s something that Colorado native Wyndham Clark is about to experience for the first time as he makes his Ryder Cup debut starting Friday in Rome, where the European squad will be the fan favorite in a BIG way.
Clark, the 2023 U.S. Open champion and a two-time PGA Tour winner this year, is in an uncommon position. Not only is he making his Ryder Cup debut, but he’s doing so on foreign soil as the Americans take on Europe Friday through Sunday in Rome.
This year, he’ll be joined in that regard by American teammates Brian Harman, Max Homa and Sam Burns.
On Thursday, the pairings for Friday morning’s foursomes/alternate shot opening session were announced. And, as it turns out, Clark will have to wait for his moment a little longer as he wasn’t selected for Friday foursomes. Also sitting out session I for the U.S. will be Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka.
“We’ve got 12 guys,” U.S. captain Zach Johnson said. “Unfortunately all 12 guys can play every session.”
It’s very possible that Clark will tee it up in Friday afternoon’s four-ball, with the lineup for those matchups being revealed near the end or after the foursomes session.
Clark and his teammates were introduced at Thursday evening’s opening ceremonies — “From Colorado, Wyndham Clark” — with the product of Valor Christian and Cherry Hills Country Club becoming the first golfer to have graduated from a Colorado high school to be so honored at the Ryder Cup since Hale Irwin in 1991.
“Can’t wait to begin my Ryder Cup journey tomorrow,” Clark said on X on Thursday. “Dreams really do come true.
“My dad (Randall) sent me a really nice text: ‘W, we used to watch these things and now you’re playing in it,” Clark said earlier this week. “That’s stuff every kid dreams about, and now that I’m doing that, it’s amazing.”
Clark (second from right in back row) with his U.S. Ryder Cup teammates and captain Zach Johnson.
Whenever Clark — and his fellow competitors — begin their matches, it will be amid a cacophony of noise as about 5,000 fans do their thing at the first tee at Marco Simone Golf Club.
“Nothing really prepares you for it,” European Ryder Cup veteran Justin Rose said of the first-tee experience at the event. “You go down and look at the first tee, you see the size of the grandstand. What intensifies it are the crowds that get to the course so early and are so excited on Friday morning.
“There’s a lot of talk going into it, and Friday morning comes and it’s the moment everyone’s been waiting for. Generally the Europeans are singing songs and you hear the USA chants. And it does feel quite gladiator-like. The first tee looms. That’s where everyone is congregating. The intensity is like nothing else.”
The first tee at the Ryder Cup can be a nerve-racking experience.
And from an American perspective …
“It’s just a different environment,” Xander Schauffele said. “We’re not used to people chanting, people slamming the bleachers, stomping. It’s so loud. We’re really enclosed in this little arena. You don’t realize what it does to your body and your brain. It just fires you up. There’s no way to stay calm with a bunch of people yelling and super-loud noise.
“You know what’s on the line. It’s interesting to hear everyone say it — and I’ve said it myself — it is one of the most nerve-racking shots. At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal. But at that moment, it feels like a very big deal.”
Added Thomas: “I try to explain to people that it’s nerves I’ve never had in golf. I mean, winning two majors, 15 times, like it doesn’t hold a candle to how nervous I’ve been in Ryder Cups and how nervous I was on the first tee in Paris (in 2018). It’s a totally different feeling. And it’s butterflies; it’s exciting butterflies.”
Clark during a Ryder Cup practice session in Rome.
From a bigger perspective, it doesn’t make the situation any easier for a rookie like Clark that the U.S. hasn’t won a Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993. But Clark gave insight how the Americans are dealing with that situation.
“I think one of the best things for our team is a little bit of ignorance,” he told SI. “There are a lot of first-timers on the team that haven’t played overseas Ryder Cups. Scottie (Scheffler), Patrick (Cantlay), Xander (Schauffele) and Collin (Morikawa) have played Ryder Cups, but they’ve never played overseas. Then you bring in guys like Max, myself, Sam and Brian. That’s eight guys who have never played (in the event) on European soil. We watched the team lose, but we don’t know how to lose. A lot of us are winners. We’ve won at every level. A lot of guys have won a national championship for their college team. They’ve played on winning Walker Cup teams. The guys who were at Whistling Straits (for the Ryder Cup in 2021) won. So we’re treating it like ‘we don’t know what we don’t know.’ We don’t have that scar tissue that some of the older Ryder Cup teams had. Anything that happened in the past doesn’t matter.”
While Johnson certainly realizes the big-time nerves will be there, he contends that first-year Ryder Cup players tend to do fine in the event.
“History will show the being a rookie is almost irrelevant,” Johnson said on Thursday.
It’s now time to see how things play out for Clark, who built his resumé with a victory in the 2010 CGA Amateur as a 16-year-old, two state high school titles, and the 2017 Pac-12 championship at Boulder Country Club before embarking on his pro career. Following wins in the Wells Fargo Championship and the U.S. Open this year, the journey continues in Rome for the 29-year-old, now ranked No. 10 in the world.
To follow results from the Ryder Cup starting early Friday, CLICK HERE.
TV Schedule for Ryder Cup
Friday (foursomes and four-ball)
11:30 p.m. (Thursday)-10 a.m (Friday), USA
Saturday (foursomes and four-ball)
11:30 p.m. (Friday)-1 a.m. (Saturday), USA
1-10 a.m., NBC and Peacock
3:30-11 a.m., NBC and Peacock
About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates ColoradoGolfJournal.com