The Life of an Alternate Part 1

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Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series on the life of an alternate on the PGA Tour. Read Part 2 Tuesday.
 
NORTON, Mass. -- Michael Clark walked through the front door of his Orlando, Fla., home Thursday, straight off an all-day practice session, expecting little more than a burst of air conditioning to soothe his sun-soaked and sweat-drenched body.
 
What he received altered more than his body temperature.
 
I got to the house at 5:00, my phone rings; the tour calls and says, Youre first alternate, he recounted Friday.
 
I thought they were talking about next week, in Canada. I was clueless. I thought they were trying to give me a spot in the Monday pro-am. So we went round-and-around for a second on that. I didnt have a clue it was about here.
 
Clark was told that there would likely be a spot for him in the Deutsche Bank Championship, which was played Friday through Labor Day Monday. You can better understand his surprise once you realize that he was the 14th and final alternate to make the 156-man field.
 
Everyone had already been registered ' a very important fact. Once players are registered to compete, they must somehow miss their tee time ' oversleep, become injured, etc. ' in order to be replaced.
 
The replacement has to be ready at a moments notice, or forgo the opportunity. Even if that means being on site, waiting ' and waiting.

Clark had twice before, in his rookie PGA Tour season of 2000, played the waiting game. And twice before he had been shutout.
 
That happens maybe 30 percent of the time ' maybe not even that much, he said of winning the waiting game.
 
So he vowed never again. And instead of traveling to the New England area this week, he stayed at home with his wife and two children.
 
Then he found out Nick Price would most likely withdraw from the tournament prior to Fridays first round due to a wrist injury. And that he was now first alternate.
 
Clark used his contacts to make sure that if he made the sudden and expensive trip that if would not prove to be Strike 3.
 
He discovered Prices exit probability was high, and the trip worth making.
 
I expected fully to be at home with my family through to next Tuesday, then I knew I was going to be on the road a couple of weeks after that. But they called; I got to go. You have to play when you can, he said.
 
Ive played so bad for so long, at some point Ive got to play good.
 
So the 34-year-old Tennessee native bought a plane ticket ' he flew up with fellow alternates Grant Waite and Tom Scherrer, packed his bags, and finally arrived in his hotel around 2:00 a.m. Friday ' all totaled, he shelled out in excess of $1,500. He got a couple of hours sleep, headed out to the TPC of Boston ' which he had never laid eyes on ' and began preparations for his 7:30 tee time.
 
Clark hasnt had a steady bagman this season, so the caddie master grabbed hold of Rick Hamilton ' a volunteer who was busy attaching the Velcro names onto the back of caddie bibs.
 
It was certainly a surprise, Hamilton said after their round. Its been a dream day.
 
At least for awe-struck Hamilton.
 
Playing the par-71, 7,415-yard course blindly, Clark managed a 1-over-par 72, which put him nine off the lead, but with a chance to make it past the first two rounds. Not bad for a man who had made only three of 13 prior cuts and was mired in 224th place on the money list.
 
Really, it was the best Ive felt all year, Clark said. I had no pressure, was relaxed. I just approached it as going out with one of the best players in the world, Darren Clarke.
 
It was so early; I knew there weren't that many people around, so I knew even if I embarrass myself it wouldnt be in front of that many people.
 
Lunch, a practice session and a sufficient amount of rest later, and it was time to try and validate his visit.
 
Clark teed off Saturday at 12:40 p.m. Three straight bogeys midway through his round dropped him to 3 over ' two shots on the wrong side of the projected cutline. He was still on that number when he approached the 543-yard, par-5 18th. After a perfect drive, he had about 200 yards to the pin.
 
At that point, I knew I had to make eagle, he said.
 
The only obstacle to overcome was the wetland guarding the green. With the pin located in the front, left portion of the kidney bean-shaped putting surface, Clark did what he had to do.
 
And did what he literally couldnt afford to do.
 
Clarks approach shot landed short, and finished lost.

I had to hit it high and soft, and all this week Ive been hitting it low. It really wasnt meant to be, he rationalized.
 
Clark took bogey for a round of 3-over 74. As it turned out, even an eagle wouldnt have helped his cause. His total of 4-over-par 146 left him four back of the cut, which eventually fell at even par.
 
I played well; I didnt make any putts. Maybe it was meant to be for me to come up here, get a little confidence in my game; I definitely did. Maybe itll carry over for the next few weeks, he said.
 
Clark is the third alternate for this week's Bell Canadian Open.
 
Read more on the life of a PGA Tour alternate Tuesday.