Mastering the Test?

In his first Masters, Wyndham Clark says ‘I like my chances’ despite 45-year drought since last golfer won in Masters debut; Denver native has looked forward to this week for ever so long

By Gary Baines – 4/9/2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — If it seems like forever — or at least a long time — since a Colorado high school graduate last competed in the Masters, that impression is understandable.

When Denver native Wyndham Clark, a product of Valor Christian and Cherry Hills Country Club, tees it up at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday, he’ll be the first person in the last nine years to have grown up in Colorado and gone on to play in the Masters. 

Kent Denver graduate Kevin Stadler was the last, having missed the cut at ANGC in 2015 after placing eighth the year before. So Thursday’s first round will end a drought of nine years and one day. In the interim, the only person with strong Colorado ties to compete in the Masters was former Colorado State University golfer and current Denver-area resident Martin Laird (38th place in 2021 after earning a berth by winning the 2020 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open).

Given that the Masters is the lone major championship Clark has yet to play — and understanding the lore of the event — the 30-year-old was asked on Tuesday when the last time he experienced more anticipation leading up to a golf tournament. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever put so much anticipation into an event,” said Clark, who will be inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame later this year. “The only thing I could think of is, when I was younger, trying to qualify for my first U.S. Amateur and thinking about it so much and I didn’t make it three or four times. And then finally qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and then making it. I built it up a lot, and you’re practicing all summer, getting ready for it. That was the first one and this is the next one.

“But one thing I am hoping is that this is one of many Masters (for him). But you always remember your first. And so I’m really soaking it in and enjoying it.”

Clark comes into his first Masters not as some wet-behind-the-ears first-timer at Augusta National, but as a player who is likely among the 10 most favored to win the 2024 Masters. He’s the first reigning U.S. Open champion to make his Masters debut since former Fitzsimons Army veteran Orville Moody in 1970. And Clark ties Collin Morikawa (2020) as the highest-ranked player in the world at the time of his Masters debut (No. 4). 

Clark was winless on the PGA Tour at this time last year, but his three victories since tie him for the most on tour during that period — with Viktor Hovland. The Colorado native won the Wells Fargo Championship and the U.S. Open last spring, then claimed the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am victory in February after setting the Pebble Beach course record in the final round with a 60.

In addition, Clark posted a pair of runner-up finishes last month in big-time events — the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship, where Clark’s birdie putt on the final hole did a 180-degree lipout instead of forcing a playoff with Scottie Scheffler. 

The only players ahead of Clark in the world rankings heading into the Masters are Scheffler (first), Rory McIlroy (second) and Jon Rahm (third).

Clark (right) and Taylor Moore had plenty of reason to smile during their Tuesday practice round at Augusta National.

With that as a backdrop, Clark this week will be trying to become the first player in 45 years — since Fuzzy Moeller — to win in his Masters debut.

“Stats like that are meant to be broken,” Clark said. “I know it’s a tall task. It’s a challenging golf course. There’s a bunch of good golfers. …

“That would be an amazing accomplishment. And I like my chances. I really like myself on this golf course. I feel good on a lot of tee shots and approaches, and there’s so much creativity. So I feel good coming into the week.”

Among Masters rookies in recent years to have finished second at Augusta National are Will Zalatoris (2021), Sungjae Im (2020), Jordan Spieth (2014) and Jonas Blixt (2014). Of those, Zalatoris came the closest to winning, finishing a stroke behind champion Hideki Matsuyama three years ago.

“Some guys have been close,” Clark said. “In anyone’s defense, it’s pretty hard to win in general. There are great players that are out on the PGA Tour that still haven’t won, or maybe they have won one time in a 10-year career. So it’s very tough just to win in general, let alone in a major where everyone builds it up to be bigger than it is. 

“But with that said, no one thought I could win the U.S. Open being the first time in contention, so I think records or curses or whatever they are, are meant to be broken. And if it’s not me this week it could be Ludvig (Åberg, another Masters first-timer, ranked ninth in the world) or someone else that does it. I think the guys that are playing professional golf now have gotten so good, and I don’t think we really listen and think of those things.”

The fact that Clark made the formal Masters press conference lineup on Tuesday says a lot about how high he’s vaulted in golf’s hierarchy. Fourteen months ago, he was ranked outside of the top 150 in the world. Now he’s No. 4.

On Tuesday, the heady company Clark found himself among in the press conference lineup included Tiger Woods, McIlroy, Scheffler, Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Hovland and Åberg. In other words, quite a who’s who in golf.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted,” Clark said of earning that type of recognition. “And it’s something that has always kind of been frustrating for me, having some success in college and thinking that I could maybe have the success right away when I first turned pro and then not having it. That was always frustrating.

“Peers of mine and friends of mine would be doing the (press conferences) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays of tournaments and being talked about and all the interviews, and I’m on the range grinding all day and no one knows my name and really cares to know my name.

“So now it’s nice. … I feel where my place is in the world as far as the golf rankings the most when I have the press (conferences) and things like this because I go, ‘OK, this is where the top players usually are on a Tuesday or Wednesday.’ So for me it’s exciting. I like doing this stuff because it’s something I’ve worked really hard to get here to do.”

Meanwhile, Clark is savoring all the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club have to offer. Even though he had opportunities to visit before, he told in January he promised himself he wouldn’t go to Augusta National until he earned a Masters invitation. Subsequently, he has come to the club twice prior to tournament week, playing four rounds, including in the company of his dad and brother in visit No. 1. 

“It lives up to all the hype, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ve always dreamt about this place, and I’ve watched pretty much every Masters since I was, I don’t know, probably 5 years old. So to finally be here and to experience it in person is pretty spectacular.

“So I’m really hoping that I bring my game this week and really get to enjoy everything that Augusta National and the Masters Tournament has to offer.

“The overall ambiance is amazing here. The patrons are so good at kind of respecting the golf but yet still being great showing excitement when we hit good shots. So just you just have this feel when you’re at this golf course and at this tournament that is unlike any other.”

So what does Clark expect when he hits the first official shot of his Masters career on Thursday? (For the record, Clark will join Hovland and Cameron Smith in teeing off at 8:54 a.m. on Thursday and noon on Friday (MT)).

“I know I’m going to have the first-tee jitters when I step up on 1 and put the ball on the peg and have to hit it,” he said. “But I’m really hoping that, when we get to hole 2 or 3 or 4, I’m pretty relaxed and I just get about my business and do my job.”

Clark said he’ll have about 10 friends and family members at the Masters this week, including his dad, Randall, who back in the day was a regular at events in which Wyndham would compete, including when he won the CGA Amateur at Boulder Country Club in 2010 as a 16-year-old. (Other significant wins by Clark in Colorado include two state high school individual titles, the 2009 CGA Junior Stroke Play and the 2017 Pac-12 championship at Boulder CC.)

Clark stretches to keep loose during Tuesday’s round. But he said his back, which he hurt a couple of weeks ago, is fine now.

In fact, when asked about his favorite memory regarding the Masters, it’s related to his dad.

“I would say probably when Tiger (who won in 2005) had that epic hole-out on 16, because my dad was here; it was the first Masters he ever attended,” Clark said. “And I remember because he was there, I was a little boy and I was trying to see if I could see my dad in the crowd. Then obviously watching the tournament, and then my favorite player wins the tournament.

“So that’s probably the most fond memory. For me, that (timing of the tournament is) right as you’re able to play golf in Colorado. So I remember going out and practicing in between kind of when Tiger was teeing off or if there was a lag in the airtime. Those memories are pretty exciting and amazing for me.”

And now, Clark has the opportunity to greatly add to those personal memories with a week that lives up to his dreams.

As usual, the colors at Augusta National do not disappoint.

Notable: Two Masters competitors, including tournament favorite Scottie Scheffler, have wives who are expecting babies this month. And both he and Sam Burns have indicated they’ll withdraw this week should their wives go into labor, according to Golf Channel. … Cam Smith, with whom Clark is paired in rounds 1 and 2, is recovering from a bout of food poisoning that befell him last week. … There’s an 85 percent chance of rain in Augusta for Thursday, when round 1 is scheduled. … The TV schedule for the Masters calls for coverage on ESPN from 1-5:30 p.m. (MT) on Thursday and Friday, on CBS from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, and on CBS from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. … Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson — multiple-time Masters champions all — will serve as the honorary starters and hit the ceremonial first tee shots of the tournament on Thursday at 5:40 a.m. (MT). … Verne Lundquist of Steamboat Springs is calling his final Masters on CBS this week. One of his famous calls was of Tiger Woods’ amazing chip-in on No. 16 en route to the title in 2005. “He has just an amazing ability to bring in the audience and describe a situation and just be able to narrate it in a way that is poetic (and) with emotionality. He just draws the audience in,” Woods said on Tuesday. “It’s amazing. … He made a nice call there at 16. I will have that memory with Verne for the rest of my life.” … Among those on hand this week at the Masters is former Fort Collins resident Drew Stoltz, winner of a CGA Amateur and a 5A state high school title in Colorado. Stoltz and Colt Knost host a popular podcast, Golf Subpar.

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 since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates