Wyndham Clark says the Pinehurst greens are “borderline” already

Mark McGowan

Wyndham Clark shows his emotions after securing his victory at LACC (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Defending champion Wyndham Clark goes in search of a second major championship this week after his rapid rise to the top 10 in the world rankings, but he’s expecting a tough test this week at Pinehurst and it were the greens in particular that caught his attention.

“Yeah, I mean, they are extremely fast,” Clark said. “If they get any firmer and faster, the greens, I mean, they’d be borderline. They already are borderline.

“But yeah, as far as practicing, I mean, the biggest thing is where you leave yourself on the greens. Today I went with my caddie and we just were really charting to certain pins, like we’d rather be here than there. Sometimes that almost could mean, not that you’re trying to miss a green, but you’re erring towards the easier up and down.

“You have to play a lot of break on these greens. When we’re hitting lag putts and short putts, you have a 10-footer downhill, down-grain. Normally you’re not more than four or five inches outside the cup on most greens.

“Here you’re maybe playing 10 to 12 inches just so that you’re not getting below the hole and having it run away.

“It’s really a lot of practice. That’s what we’re going to focus on a lot. We did today, and these next few days, to get ready.”

Pinehurst is famous for its upturned saucer-like putting surfaces and large run off areas with aprons as slick as the greens themselves, and rather than grain being an issue for Clark, he feels speed control is going to be more instrumental having watched numerous players putting the ball right off the green during early practice rounds.

“Yeah, I mean, the grain, I don’t know if it affects maybe the break of the putts as much on these greens because they are cut so tight that the green is not grabbing it. It’s more the speed. When it looks really shiny and it’s down-grain, let’s say the grains are a 13, I think down-grain they’re 15 or 16. They’re like significantly faster,” he said.

“And then into the grain, it’s not affecting it that much. It goes from a 13 on the stimp to maybe only a 12 in my mind. So every putt is fast. I find myself hitting uphill putts six feet by, six, seven feet by.

“Common theme in our group. I mean, multiple guys putts off the green. Multiple guys hit putts, they’re like, oh, my gosh. It’s definitely the defense right now is the greens.”

Despite his purple patch continuing into 2024 and getting PGA Tour win number three at Pebble Beach back in February, his recent form has taken a dip and after finishing T47 while defending his maiden PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow, he’s missed cuts at both the PGA Championship and the Memorial in his last two starts. And he’s not able to put his finger on exactly why the game hasn’t been transferring from the range to the course.

“I mean, I honestly don’t know,” he replied when the question of his dip in form was posed. “You look at the stats and things look bad, but yet in practice, it’s good. It’s been really puzzling to me because I’ll hit great shots or I’ll play 13 really good holes, but I’m not getting much out of ’em.

“I kind of have four or five not-so-good holes. I end up shooting 1- or 2-over. I do that two rounds and you miss the cut. So that’s been really frustrating.

“Yeah, my frustration level is definitely higher than it’s been in a long time. So yeah, it’s kind of a bummer. It’s the great thing about golf: there’s always another week. I got to believe that good golf is around the corner.

“I’m hitting a lot of good shots in practice. I got to be able to take it to the course. I’m hoping it’s this week and it starts a good run of playing good golf the rest of the year.”

The pressures of life on tour and the toll the game can take on your mental health is something that Clark is mindful of and the recent tragic death of Grayson Murray served as a reminder that he is a golfer, but is not defined by golf.

“Yeah, I mean, I assume you’re alluding to some recent events,” he replied to a question on balancing the mental aspects. “That’s obviously a very sad and tragic situation that happened. The unfortunate thing for what we do is it is so lonely and it’s very difficult.

“Too often I think players, including myself, get tied up so much in score and outcome, and the game of golf is so frustrating and so hard. There are those really lonely times when you miss the cut, you throw your clubs in the car, you drive off, and you’re very pissed off.

“So, yeah, I mean, obviously on TV they typically show the guy’s playing great, the game seems awesome. In reality I’d say 80% of the field storms off pretty pissed off after a lot of the rounds.

“That’s just the nature of our game. That’s why it is such a mental game. As I’ve played it more and more, I’ve learned that there’s so many different skill levels out here, and the difference I think between the guys that really make it and enjoy the game, have a long career, they’re just better mentally than everyone.

“As far as the amount of help and stuff that guys have out here, I mean, we have unlimited resources, to be honest. I just think it’s more of maybe the caddies and the players maybe checking in on each player. Being like, Hey, man, how are you doing? Not just, How are you playing golf? That’s more maybe on the players to take initiative to do that.

“Like I said, it’s lonely. I’ve been in many low spots where you have some negative thoughts which you don’t ever want to have. Golf can do that to you. You got to do your best to not let it do that.”

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