Walking up the final fairway at Quail Hollow on Sunday, victory all but assured, Wyndham Clark made a conscious effort to soak up all the sights and sounds around him. Moments later, the American tapped home to clinch the Wells Fargo Championship and his first ever PGA Tour title.
“You only can win your first tournament once,” Clark reflected, but this was a victory played out in his imagination countless times.
“It’s surreal, I’ve dreamt about this since I was probably six years old,” Clark told reporters in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Since I’ve been on the PGA Tour, you fantasize about it all the time, and I’ve done it multiple times this year where I catch myself daydreaming about winning.
“To do it at this golf course against this competition is better than I could ever have imagined.”
Long time coming
The manner of victory was the stuff of dreams too, as Clark carded 19-under to seal a four-shot victory over compatriot Xander Schauffele, ranked 75 places above him at world No. 5. It marked the second-lowest score in relation to par in the event’s history, second only to Rory McIlroy’s 21-under in 2015, according to the PGA Tour.
McIlroy, making his first start since missing the cut at The Masters, finished 31st in a star-studded field featuring six of the world’s top 10.
A final round three-under 68 sealed the 29-year-old Clark’s fourth consecutive round in the 60’s, a composed closer after a scintillating 63 on Saturday had given him a two-shot lead over Schauffele heading into the closing round.
Having turned pro in 2017, Clark was five years and 133 PGA Tour starts without a win. After finishing sixth at the Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic in March, the American began to think that he might never taste victory.
“I know that sounds crazy because I’ve only been out here five years, but I had a lot of chances to where I was within two or three shots either going into the back nine or starting on a Sunday and I always seem to fall short, and not only that, but seem like I fell back in positions,” Clark admitted.
“There was multiple texts and calls and times when I was so frustrated with people in my camp where I didn’t think I would ever win and I was like, ‘Let’s just stop talking about it,’ because I didn’t want to think about it. I said maybe that’s just not in the cards for me.
“So being in the position this time, I was like, ‘Well, we know what not to do.’”
Those lessons were tested immediately Sunday, as Clark opened with a bogey and remained at one-over approaching the eighth tee. However, a subsequent birdie, followed by four more across the first six holes of the back nine, saw him cruise home.
When he rolled home his closing bogey, Clark looked overcome with emotion. After embracing his caddie and Schauffele, he looked to be holding back tears as he saluted the crowd gathered at the 18th.
‘I didn’t know where I was going’
Victory secured Clark the $3.6 million winner’s prize – dwarfing his previous-best payday of $485,000 – and stamped his ticket to the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in July. It also saw his world ranking soar 49 places to No. 31.
It fulfilled a dream that almost never got off the ground. When a 19-year-old Clark was establishing himself as a talented player at Oklahoma State University, his mother died of breast cancer.
Clark lost his “rock” and seriously considered walking away from the sport entirely.
“I was playing terribly,” Clark recalled. “There’s many times when I stormed off the golf course in qualifying or in tournaments and just drove as fast as I could, I didn’t know where I was going.
“The pressure of golf and then not having my mom there and someone that I could call was really tough for me. Then professionally, I’ve had multiple moments like that where you just, you miss multiple cuts in a row or you feel like your game is good and you’re not getting much out of it and you just contemplate doing it [walking away].
“Max Homa has a great quote: ‘Every golfer’s one shot away from thinking they can win the Masters or one shot away from quitting golf.’ It really is a great quote because that’s the truth. I’m glad I stuck it out and am here now.”