Wyndham Clark’s laser-focus has him putting out of his mind and leading the Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Scottie Scheffler isn’t the only one who has figured out his putting.

Earlier this year, Wyndham Clark was so desperate for help with his short stick that en route to the airport he phoned a friend — Drew Kittleson, a former pro who lives near him in Scottsdale, Arizona – and asked if he could borrow his putter and take it to the Sentry in Hawaii at the PGA Tour’s season-opening event. By the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, the reigning U.S. Open champion was losing sleep at night over his putting woes and so he flew in early ahead of the signature event and laid out nine different putters on the practice green at Pebble Beach Golf Links and worked with putting coach Mike Kanski for the first time.

“Even if he doesn’t change anything, we need confirmation how good you are,” said Clark’s mental coach Julie Elion, who has helped him unlock his potential. “He had to break up the scar tissue.”

Consider it broken. Clark switched to gripping the club left-hand low, removed the alignment aid and shortened his Odyssey Jailbreak putter a bit and has become a wizard on the greens. He putted out of his mind in the final round at Pebble, shooting a course-record 60 to win the title and hasn’t slowed down. Coming off a runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Clark may be putting even better at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass this week.

Through 36 holes, he’s leading the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (+7.727) en route to shooting a pair of 65s and a 36-hole total of 14-under 130. In doing so, he grabbed a five-stroke lead over Matt Fitzpatrick and Maverick McNealy at the 2024 Players Championship.

A year ago, Clark was winless on the Tour and the two-week stretch of the Players and Valspar Championship in Tampa last March were the low point for his putting. That’s when he discovered the Jailbreak model that Rickie Fowler had been using to great effect.

“I started really seeing a lot of putts go in, and then all the work that I did off the course in my mental game I started seeing it on the course because I started making putts,” Clark said. “So that’s probably the biggest thing is a combining the mental game with making putts and now I’ve been shooting some good scores.”

In early May he broke through at the Wells Fargo Championship and then in June won the U.S. Open. Not surprising that his game headed south after winning the U.S. Open and the obligation he felt to play up to that lofty title. Elion had seen this before with other clients and she reminded him to focus on what got him to be the U.S. Open champ. This week’s tip is to play with “extreme focus” and she used the visual of an old-school photo lens zooming in on a camera.

“I don’t know if he’s old enough to know what I meant,” she said with a laugh.

Clark’s zoomed in on making birdies. He described Thursday’s opening round 65 as “point and shoot,” whereas Friday’s first nine was a bit more of hanging around with just his second bogey of the week at No. 14 and a pair of birdies, including at No. 17 where he buried an 18-foot putt, on his first nine holes. After a par at 18, he made the turn and birdied five of the first six holes. The lone par illustrated his putting brilliance as after three subpar shots he stepped up and poured in the 22-foot putt.

2024 Players Championship
2024 Players Championship

Wyndham Clark pumps his fist as he sinks his putt on the ninth hole at the 2024 Players Championship PGA at TPC Sawgrass. (Photo: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union)

“Are you kidding me?” said PGA Tour Radio’s Dennis Paulson of Clark who had taken just 20 putts in his first 14 holes and has already made nearly 206 feet of putts this week. “This guy is on some run.”

Proof that the mind is a powerful thing.

“When I’ve been out there I’ve been really focused at what I’m trying to do. So I haven’t really been focused on anything else. I haven’t been seeing any of the other noise, and I’ve just kind of been, all right, this is what we’re doing,” he said.

That includes not letting the little things get to him such as having to move hotel rooms. Was it bed bugs, he was asked?

“No, they gave my girlfriend and me a room with two twin beds,” he explained.

Enough to throw off anyone’s day if not tournament. Good thing Clark is laser-focused on the prize.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek