Q&A: Valor Christian Wyndham Clark outlines his journey to the PGA
Golf is hard.
And according to Valor Christian alum Wyndham Clark, it's even harder if you come from Colorado. But like any sport, reaching a professional level requires the right mix of talent, motivation and work ethic.
It appears Clark has enough of all three. In 2011, he won the Class 4A boys golf championship. He recently graduated from the University of Oregon and has officially joined the ranks as a professional golfer.
He doesn't quite have his PGA tour card, but he is taking a path that he hopes will end with regular appearances on the pro circuit.
Question: The path to the pros in sports like football and basketball is really transparent, but what does it take on the golf side?
Clark: It's definitely a lot tougher than any other sport, just because if you're coming out of college for football and basketball and you get drafted, you're guaranteed to be on a team and guaranteed at least a few years.
Yet, in golf, that's not necessarily the case. You're not getting a PGA card, regardless if you're the No. 1 player coming out of college.
The process pretty much goes that you have to try and get your Web card and you spend one year out on the Web.com Tour. If you finish roughly top 40, but mainly top 25, you get your PGA Tour card. That's one route.
Another route that I'm trying to do is that I've been fortunate enough to get sponsorship exemptions into PGA events. Through that, if I play well, I can get my card based on FedEx Cup points.
You can also earn enough points to go to the Web.com finals and from there you can earn your card.
There are tons of different avenues to get on the PGA Tour.
Q: When you won your state championship back in 2011, did you have an idea at that point that you were good enough and this was a path that you seriously wanted to pursue?
Clark: Yeah, I've always dreamt about it. Winning my high school state championship didn't necessarily make me believe that I could. I already believed that.
But that was definitely a stepping stone in my career. And as I've played in college and played against good players, growing up playing against guys like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas and players like that, I knew my game compared to players like theirs. I just need to play more consistent and when I have the opportunity, take advantage of it like they did.
I always believed I could, now I just have to go out and show it at the right time.
Q: Golf is different in the sense that you're not directly competing against other players, you're competing against the course. Other athletes talk about how much faster the game is at the pro level, how is golf different from the high school level to the professional level?
Clark: From the high school level, there is no comparison other than the fact that you're playing the same game. In college, there's a little bit of a comparison but still, it's definitely different.
The conditions of the golf courses are way different. Not only are they nice and well-manicured, but it's so much firmer than people see on TV week-in and week-out. The pin placements are so tough.
You really learn how to manage your golf ball and put it in the right spot, you really can't short-side yourself on tour. Short-siding yourself on tour is so bad pretty much every week because the greens are firm, usually the rough is really high and obviously the greens are relatively quick.
When you short-side yourself, you almost have no chance to make par.
That's one of the biggest differences that I've noticed from high school and collegiate golf is how they set up golf courses compared to amateur golf.
Q: Is there an advantage or a disadvantage coming from the state of Colorado?
Clark: I think it's a disadvantage, personally. Because you don't ever really play at altitude at any of these events. The most you play at is maybe 1,000 feet.
I think growing up in Colorado, not only are you playing different distances, but the ball actually spins less and is affect by the air less. So the ball goes straighter and doesn't go offline as much.
When you go play in Florida or other places where the air is thick, your misses are exaggerated a lot more. I think that's definitely a disadvantage.
And then I would also say over the years, there has been a lot of good competition but there are states like Texas, California, Florida and Georgia that have produced more PGA Tour players.
Playing against really good competition only makes you better.
But there are also some advantages to playing in Colorado. I think time off is huge. Having distractions from the game and playing other sports helped me. Not being able to play at all can be great, but overall I would say it's a disadvantage.
Q: So for a golf like yourself who is able to adjust and make it into professional events, is that more of a testament to your ability more or less overcome those disadvantages?
Clark: I think any guy that makes it from Colorado really put in the time and work, is really talented or really took advantage of whatever college they went to. And if they stayed in Colorado then their game is that good that they can adjust to those disadvantages that there are in Colorado.
If you can make it being from Colorado, it actually then becomes an advantage because I think you have a chip on your shoulder, it's a tougher route. When you do have adverse conditions or just adversity, you can handle it a lot better than if you came from California where it's 75 and perfect every day.
I definitely think it's a big accomplishment to make to the next level in general, but especially coming from Colorado or Utah or any place like that.
Q: What was it like standing on your first tee box at your first professional event?
Clark: It was pretty surreal. Unfortunately, actually rather fortunately, I started on No. 10 so there weren't as many people on the first tee. I think that helped the first tee nerves a little bit.
I barely missed the fairway, but I was in the first cut so it wasn't too bad.
But it was definitely a surreal feeling because I had dreamt about it for so long. I saw a lot of my peers getting starts in PGA events as amateurs because they had an event in their hometown or home state and we don't in Colorado.
I was never fortunate enough to play in one so it felt long overdue. But it was a great feeling.
Q: Was there ever a moment during that round when you could soak it all in and really appreciate what you had accomplished at that point?
Clark: It was tough. I struggled focusing that week, I had a lot going on and obviously it was my first event and I wanted to do well but there were a lot of distractions.
I was out there trying to grind and get ahead and try and make the cut, but I played terribly and didn't.
I did make a birdie putt on my last hole of the tournament and that was pretty cool. There was a handful of people and I got a loud cheer. I at least had some positives in the event and it gave me some encouragement going into the next week.
I went into the next week and played a lot better and made the cut.
So I would say that putt on 18 after I missed the cut, I was able to soak it in. I didn't play well, but it was a fun week and it was awesome to get my first start under my belt.
Q: What's your outlook now in terms of how soon do you want to be playing in majors and just playing well on tour consistently?
Clark: I'd like to do it this year. My goal is to get on tour as fast as possible whether that's playing well in my starts on the PGA Tour here in the next few months and having one really good week and getting my card, that'd be my first goal.
If not, then try to do it through the Web.com and the dream would be to be playing next year with my card.
But if that doesn't happen, you have to have a longterm mindset. And mine is that it usually takes good players anywhere between two and four years. I'm giving myself that amount of time to try and make it, but if it happens earlier, that's even better.
As far as majors, I think that comes with getting your card and that all comes relatively at the same time. Obviously qualifying for the U.S. Open I've tried many times.
That would be fun to have that be my first major, but it all happens in due time.
Q: What would you tell any high school kid right now who is looking at becoming a professional golfer.
Clark: I would say you have to really monitor how you practice and how you view your path to the tour. There are different routes. You don't necessarily have to go to a top college to make it on tour. There are guys that played D-II or D-III golf that are on tour.
You don't have to be so concerned with where you go, but obviously some places help.
As far as your practice and preparation, I used to just practice the things I like. I didn't work on things that are applicable to playing golf. What I've learned out here are things like gaining shots on the putting green, working getting up and down from certain situations.
I go out and have to work on hitting fairways or having to miss on a certain side of the hole. Work on my wedge distances.
I used to just go to the range and go to the putting green and do a bunch of drills, but none of them really translated to the golf course. Playing a lot and trying to score and get your ball in the hole is really the biggest thing.
I think that would really help a high school player and that's what separates the PGA from the rest of the world is how they prepare and how they practice.
That's why they play so well.