Wyndham Clark climbs to top of leaderboard at Wells Fargo Championship
Wyndham Clark stood just off the seventh green at Quail Hollow in relative obscurity.
The mega-mansions guarding the green off its right side towered above the scene. Those fans gathered on this far flung corner of the grounds offered a few hollers of “Go cocks!” in the direction of playing-partner and South Carolina alum Matt NeSmith. Underneath the cheers, a handful of beer cans crunched behind the putting surface as a feeling of indifference toward this group comprised of three players ranked 77th, 80th and 116th in the Official World Golf Rankings percolated.
“With a name like that, are we sure he didn’t go to like South Carolina?” a volunteer along the ropes quipped of Clark, a Colorado native.
Indifference aside, a glance at the scoreboard held by the standard bearer following Clark, NeSmith and third party member Davis Thompson created a stir.
Clark fired a 4-under-par 67 on Friday, moving him into a tie for first place at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship. That in and of itself takes suspending belief, tilting your head and squinting a bit. This guy is tied for the lead?
There’s nothing overly impressive about Clark’s resume in a field that boasts 20 of the top 25 players in the world this week. He’s spent six years on tour without a professional win. He didn’t qualify for a major until 2021, and he’s still never made it into the field at the Masters. He’s a name golfniks remember as much for teaming up with Talor Gooch at Oklahoma State as anything he’s accomplished on the PGA Tour.
Start paying attention, though, because that’s started to change.
Clark was meticulous in his Friday round that began on the back nine. He played the first seven holes at even par, but missed birdie putts at 11 and 14 before three-putting 15. Opportunities missed. He didn’t panic.
There’s an ease about Clark these days that wasn’t there in years past. He said he’s reading more. He’s also added meditation to his regimen. That allows him to let missed chances roll off his back in a way he might not have a year ago. That approach paid off Friday.
Birdies at 17 and 18 got Clark going. A 16-foot bending birdie at 4 moved him into a tie for the co-lead. The galleries around his group grew steadily.
“I was even through my first seven holes, but I felt like I should be a couple under,” Clark said. “Then birdied 17 and 18, which kind of got the round going. (I) felt like it rewarded my patience in not getting frustrated.”
Smashing his drive up the right side of the par-5 7th, Clark gripped a hybrid and clocked his second shot up toward the flag for an eagle putt. With a smooth swing of the putter and a heavy-handed follow through, he hammered the back of the cup and dropped in an eagle to pull back into a tie for the lead with Tyrell Hatton and Nate Lashley.
Clark shook his head four times and smirked.
“I just pounded it,” he said through a laugh. “I’m glad it hit the cup, that thing might have been off the green it was hit so hard.”
It’s not quite a renaissance, at least it won’t be until he hoists a trophy, but there’s something worth watching and oddly familiar in what Clark has done this week in Charlotte and for the bulk of the past seven months.
Max Homa — a two-time winner at Quail Hollow and the defending champion this week — spent four years at California before turning pro in 2013. He wouldn’t win his first PGA Tour event until 2021. Since? Homa has added four more titles to his mantle and, at 32, evolved into a full-blown star on the PGA Tour.
There’s some of that in Clark.
The 29-year-old played four years at Oklahoma State before finishing his college career at Oregon. He’s now in his sixth year on tour and the results are starting to follow. Clark has finished in the top 40 in 13 of his past 14 events. He’s made eight top 25s already this year — matching a career high — and his five top 10s are almost double his best previous output in a given year (three).
“Mentally, I’m a lot stronger,” Clark said of how he’s ripped off his recent form. “I’m handling adversity. I’m handling success. I’m handling a lot of things a lot better, and I’m more patient out there and more comfortable playing. In the past I feel like I would get a little antsy and uncomfortable out there and now I feel way more comfortable.”
Clark remains a stratosphere away from being a household name on the PGA Tour. Heck, he still has two more days here in Charlotte to wrap up with a field of the biggest names in golf nipping at his heels.
But this form Clark has found feels increasingly less like a flash in the pan. He’s playing well and has been for months. That deserves our attention.
Wells Fargo Championship leaderboard
T1 — Tyrell Hatton (-8)
T1 — Nate Lashley (-8)
T1 — Wyndham Clark (-8)
T4 — Sungjae Im (-7)
T4 — Xander Schauffele (-7)
T4 — J.J. Spaun (-7)
T4 — Justin Thomas (-7)
T4 — Adam Scott (-7)
T4 — Adam Svensson
T10 — Tommy Fleetwood(-6)
T10 — Michael Kim (-6)
T10 — K.H. Lee (-6)