Denver native Wyndham Clark discusses his huge ascent over the last year, the foundation he’s created in honor of his late mother, his first Masters, the BMW Championship in Colorado, celebrity congratulations he received after U.S. Open win, and what comes next for him
By Gary Baines – 1/17/2024
It turns out it’s not just a mantra Wyndham Clark used to help him win the U.S. Open last year — a saying with which his late mother, Lise, used to encourage him.
It’s become sort of a way of life for Clark, the Denver native who honed his golf game at Cherry Hills Country Club and graduated from Valor Christian. And now, the just-turned-30-year-old is indeed “playing big” — and not just on the golf course.
Let’s count the ways:
— Of course, there’s Clark’s stellar performance on the PGA Tour last year as he not only scored his first Tour victory, but in short order he added his first major championship title, at the U.S. Open.
— Among other things, that success resulted in big financial gains. Putting aside money earned from endorsements, outings and other ancillary income, Clark’s official earnings on the PGA Tour last season totaled more than $10.7 million. That, in turn, helped bring a longtime dream within reach. With Lise Clark having passed away in 2013 after battling breast cancer, Wyndham included on his PGA Tour online bio that he’d like to start a breast cancer foundation.
And just in the last couple of months, Clark did indeed do just that — appropriately named the “Play Big Foundation”.
“The main thing is for cancer,” Clark said in a recent phone interview as he drove from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to La Quinta, Calif., where he’ll compete in The American Express tournament starting on Thursday. “I specifically wanted to focus on giving back to the families that went through obviously what I went through, how much of a financial burden it is, and how difficult cancer can be on a family. I really want to focus on the families, give to them and try to help them in any way I can. Then the overall breast cancer awareness for research.
“Another small portion (of the foundation) is giving back to young kids — typically underprivileged kids — who want to get into golf (but) maybe can’t afford to. Or to give to certain organizations to help (kids) be able to do the sport I love and that helped me get to where I am and become the person I am.
“I’m really excited about this foundation. Every year I’m going to be giving a good portion of money I earn on the golf course to the foundation. In the future, I hope we’re going to have a golf event that’s going to be very fun. It could be in Vegas or Arizona or maybe back in Colorado — or do two events. So hopefully we’ll raise a ton of money and continue to grow this foundation so that we can go and really impact people’s lives. … I want (the kids) to be involved in the actual golf event, and I want to hopefully be able to do clinics and whatnot. Then I’ll ultimately give a financial donation to these organizations. That’s the smaller portion of it, but it’s definitely part of it.”
Clark earned more than $10.7 million on the PGA Tour last season.
— Looking forward regarding his own competitive golf, playing big has landed Clark into the very upper echelon of the game. Earlier this month, that landed him a spot in the small-field, invitation-only Sentry tournament in Hawaii. And, more notably, in April he’ll compete in the grandaddy of all golf tournaments, the Masters, for the first time.
“It’s the only tournament I now haven’t played, which is pretty neat to think about — I guess besides the Presidents Cup,” Clark said. “I’ve played and contended in every event other than that. (The Masters) is a bucket-list item for me. Obviously everyone raves how good it is. I grew up watching that tournament every year. It’s a place in golf that before you even go, you know every single hole, every single shot. I feel like I’ve been doing 25 years of practice rounds just by watching it. I’m really looking forward to it. I just can’t wait to be there and just feel the energy that’s there, and the amazing history. And hopefully I can make my own history there.”
Actually, by design, Clark has never played Augusta National Golf Club — even a casual round. But that will soon be rectified.
“I made a little pact to myself that I would not go to Augusta until I was in the tournament,” he said. “I had been invited a couple of times. I turned it down, which I know sounds crazy. To myself, as motivation, I was like, ‘I’ve got to go qualify for this thing and get in.’ Now that I’m in, I’m going to go play practice rounds. But I’m not going to do that for probably another 4-5 weeks for the first time, and hopefully I’ll get two trips in where I play 36 (holes) each day to see it. Then obviously tournament week.”
Clark played in his first Ryder Cup last fall in Rome.
— Then, in all likelihood if Clark plays well again this year, “playing big” will earn him a spot in the BMW Championship, which will give the Denver native a chance to compete at a tour level in front of fans from the state in which he grew up. Specifically, Castle Pines Golf Club is hosting the first PGA Tour event contested in Colorado since 2014. The top 50 players in FedExCup points as of mid-August will qualify, teeing it up Aug. 22-25.
“It’s definitely something, if I were to put a result goal, I’d love to be in that event and I’d obviously love to have a great week that week,” said Clark, who in Colorado has won a CGA Amateur (at age 16 in 2010), a Pac-12 title and two state high school championships. “I have never played a professional event in my home state that is of this magnitude. I never played the Korn Ferry event there, and obviously no Tour events. It would be really a dream come true to play in front of my home crowd and have all my friends and family there, and people who watched me growing up. It would be really neat. It’s obviously a place I know very well, and I’ve played a lot there over the years. So it would be amazing to just be in the event, then also play good.”
Meanwhile, after competing in his first Ryder Cup last year — becoming the first graduate of a Colorado high school to play in the event since Hale Irwin in 1991 — two other team events could be in the cards for Clark in 2024: the Presidents Cup (Sept. 26-29 in Montreal, with 12 Americans earning spots) and the Olympics (Aug. 1-4 in Paris, with a maximum of four Americans making the grade). In both cases, Clark will have to play well in 2024 to make the U.S. teams.
“Yes, I want to represent my country, whether that’s for the President’s Cup or that’s for the Olympics, I always want to play on Team USA,” he said. “Getting that experience at the Ryder Cup was amazing. I want to play in those events every year if I can.
“But I’m not going to really think about it that much. I’m going to focus on my golf and things that help me play my best. If I end up playing great golf, I’ll be on the team. If not, I’ll be watching. I definitely want to be part of it, but I’m not going to be too concerned about it until maybe the last month or so before.”
Meanwhile, Clark’s U.S. Open title defense will take place June 13-16 at Pinehurst in North Carolina.
Clark was overcome with emotion after winning both the Wells Fargo Championship and the U.S. Open. (Photo: @Wyndham_Clark on X)
— Playing Big also landed Clark in the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame, having been voted in at the grand old age of 29. After celebrating his 30th birthday last month, he’ll be inducted sometime later this year. He’s one of the youngest-ever CGHOF inductees, along with Hale Irwin (29 in 1974) and Jennifer Kupcho (who was voted in as a 26-year-old and will be inducted at the same time Clark is.)
“It’s crazy to think about a Hall of Fame already,” Clark said. “I’m only 30. It’s obviously not something you really think about that much because I’m not at the end of my career. But to be honored as one of the great players in golf from Colorado is a huge honor. I’m really excited to be in that select group of people. It’s a huge blessing.”
Also locally, just this week, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame named Clark — along with skier Mikaela Shiffrin — its Pro Athletes of the Year for 2023.
But while there’s much to look forward to, Clark has had some time to reflect on the past year — one that really put him on the map as far as big-time players go.
In the wake of Clark’s U.S. Open victory at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course, who were some of the biggest-name people who reached out to congratulate him?
One was fellow Valor Christian alum Christian McCaffrey, now one of the most prominent players in the NFL. A former U.S. President reached out (Clark declined to specify which one), as did Peyton Manning and Charles Barkley.
“There were so many nice ones,” Clark said. “I’m friends with Mark Wahlberg and we’re business partners together. (Clark has a multi-year sponsorship agreement with Municipal sport utility gear, a company co-founded by Wahlberg). He did a nice thing on social media and a nice text to me.”
(Indeed, Wahlberg posted a video on Instagram of himself, with a TV showing Clark sinking the winning putt at the U.S. Open behind him. Said Wahlberg: “My guy. … Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. The dream, the plan, the hustle.”
Clark currently stands No. 10 in the world rankings.
Beyond that, “One of the cooler thing was the number of PGA Tour players that reached out to me and said nice things, because they don’t have to do that and they’re trying to beat me and whatnot,” Clark said. “So for them to do that was really nice and showed a lot of class.”
During the course of 2023, Clark went from outside of the top 150 in the World Golf Rankings to now being No. 10. That’s no small feat, but Clark said there were a couple of keys to making that big jump.
“I fired any swing coach I had,” he said. “I started taking the game and my swing (to where) I pretty much do it on my own, which helped me own my own swing and game and really understand my swing and understand under pressure why I hit certain shots. That ownership has been really huge for me and has helped me be way more consistent.
“The approach and attack of the mental game has been another thing that’s been huge. Those are the things that have helped me get to the next level.” Regarding this aspect of his improvement, Clark has been working regularly over the last year with Julie Elion regarding the mental side of things. Elion also helps Justin Thomas and Max Homa, among others, and has worked with Phil Mickelson in the past.
“I talk to her every week. She goes to 12 events a year,” Clark said of Elion. “During tournaments we talk every day. I probably call her more than I do most people. We’re constantly working and talking.”
In September during the Ryder Cup in Rome, Elion told Golfweek that Clark is “the hardest worker I’ve ever had.”
Clark’s two PGA Tour wins last year were separated by less than a month and a half. (Photo: @Wyndham_Clark on X)
Now that Clark has won a PGA Tour event and a major championship — and cracked the top 10 in the world rankings — what are his goals and expectations as he gears up in 2024? (Note: Clark finished 29th at The Sentry earlier this month — after a 10-under-par final round — to start the season, and this week’s American Express will mark his second tournament of 2024.)
“I would love to climb the world rankings,” he said. “I’ve always had aspirations to try to be the best player in the world. That’s always going to be a goal every year. I’d like to see myself in the winner’s circle again.
“(But) I really do more process goals. I don’t do too many result goals. That’s what I focused on last year and that’s what I’m going to continue to focus on this year. I don’t like to put too many result goals. The overarching result is to try to get as high in the world as I possibly can. But I try to focus on my day-to-day process stuff, which helps me play my best golf. And if I can do that better, the results take care of themselves.”
Clark believes that on any given week, he can beat any player in the world. But he also realizes there are very valid reasons why there are players ranked higher than him.
“I think my game matches up with anyone in the world,” he said. “I would say the one thing I see that maybe someone like Scottie Scheffler or Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy do that maybe is better than me is that they’re just consistent. Their bad weeks are 15th or 12th (place). They’re constantly getting top-10s. That would be the one thing that I think I can get better at is where I’m a little more consistently at the top. It took me five years to learn how to win. Now I know how to win. But I’m playing with the best players in the world and I’ve beaten the best players in the world. I look at their games and feel like I can do everything they can do. They just maybe do it more consistently.”
Mid-range putting was a focus for Clark in his offseason work.
To that end, Clark put in plenty of reps on the putting green in the offseason. While the statistics show he’s a good putter by PGA Tour standards, he sees room for improvement in that area, particularly regarding mid-range putts.
“Last year, I wasn’t as consistent in my putting, and I didn’t putt very good in Maui (for The Sentry),” he said. “That’s something I really worked on in the offseason. The good thing is I’ve been putting good and feel like I’ve made some gains with my putting in the offseason. I’m really hoping that’s the one area where I improve this year, probably the most, is putts made kind of from 10 to 20 feet. That’s one thing, if I can do that better, I think that would get me to that next level.”
For the record, during the 2022-23 season, Clark ranked 54th in putting from 15-20 feet, and 80th in putting from 10-15 feet.
Still, Clark is doing his best not to put additional pressure on himself following his two-win season and ascent to No. 10 in the world.
“Obviously, there’s challenges in every year whether you had success or didn’t have success the previous year because success brings on new challenges — higher expectations, more media obligations, more eyes on you — all those things,” he said. “I’m just going to have to manage that and do a really good job staying in my lane and really focused on just playing the best golf I can play and doing the things that help me do that.”
Clark hopes to follow up his Ryder Cup appearance by representing the U.S. at the President’s Cup and/or the Olympics in 2024.
Even though Clark has lived in Scottsdale for about the last 4 1/2 years, he still gets back to Colorado a fair amount. And his dad, Randall, still lives in the Denver area. And there are also performance-, relaxation- and weather-related reasons for his visits to the Centennial State.
“Almost every off week I fly into Denver for the day to work with Greg Roskopf at Muscle Activation Techniques. I work with Greg quite a bit,” Clark said. “But those are day trips. I don’t get to spend very much time hanging out in Denver. But over the summertime, just because of how hot it is in Arizona, I typically try to do 2-4 weeks in the summer where I come back, hang out in Denver, play Cherry Hills, play Castle Pines or Colorado Golf Club, then I’ll try to go fish some up in the mountains.”
Indeed, roughly a year ago the PGA Tour posted a YouTube video featuring Clark fly fishing on the Colorado River — and catching some rather-large trout.
“It’s my favorite thing to do outside of golf,” Clark says now. “Unfortunately in Arizona, there’s not too many places to do it. So when I’m back in Colorado, I try to do it as much as possible. It’s something I did a ton in college. That’s kind of where I learned to really do it. Now I get to go less than five times a year, but I really cherish it and love when I get to go because it’s the one place and the one thing I can do where I can completely just zone everything else out. It’s kind of my happy place where I can focus on one thing and not worry about anything else going on in life. It’s very therapeutic for me.”
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