Wrenching Time for Clarke as Ryder Cup Nears

By Associated PressSeptember 18, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- The shiny gold trophy sat on the table, and Ian Woosnam wasn't sure whether to take it with him.
 
Standing to leave his news conference Monday at The K Club, the European captain clutched it in his right hand and was headed out the door when he walked past Darren Clarke and instinctively handed him the Ryder Cup.
 
For all the emotions swirling around Clarke in the five weeks since his wife died, it was a reminder why he is here.
 
'A lot of people understand the position I'm in,' Clarke said. 'I've had a very emotional time of late. But as soon as the bell goes, I'm there to play golf, and I'm going to try to play as best I can. And hopefully, my best will be enough to earn some points for the team.'
 
Clarke contributed 3 1/2 points to Europe's landslide victory last time in the Ryder Cup, a festive occasion.
 
Two weeks after returning home from Oakland Hills, however, he learned that breast cancer had returned to his wife, Heather, and quickly spread through her body. She urged him to keep playing, even as her condition worsened.
 
A year ago at the BMW Championship at Wentworth, players and their wives were in tears to hear that Heather had suffered another setback and wasn't expected to live more than a week. Clarke always called her a fighter, and that much was clear.
 
She rallied time and again, strong enough to join him in the Bahamas the week before the Masters. But after Clarke opened with a 68 in the Houston Open a few weeks later, he withdrew to fly home to London when she took another turn for the worse.
 
Finally, he called it quits after missing the cut at the British Open, wanting to spend as much time as he could with his family.
 
'We went on a family holiday,' he said. 'We went to Greece for a day, and didn't like that; ended up in Portugal for a little bit. And after that, a bit of a rush to get back home on an air ambulance, just had a bit of a nightmare. But we got back home, and things went downhill rather rapidly.'
 
She died Aug. 13, leaving behind her husband and two sons, 8-year-old Tyrone and 5-year-old Conor.
 
Clarke would come home from the hospital in her last few weeks and hit balls, mostly to take his mind off a helpless situation. He returned to practice after the funeral because he wanted to be ready if he felt he should play in the Ryder Cup.
 
Woosnam offered him a captain's pick and Clarke accepted, for no other reason than Heather would have wanted him to play.
 
'I have my moments,' he said. 'But overall, I'm very comfortable with what I'm doing. I did think long and hard about whether I should be here this week, and I came to the conclusion that I would help the team if I was here. So that's why I'm here. I want to play. I want to compete. And I want to help my teammates.'
 
And while he has continued to work hard on his game, his routine has changed.
 
Clarke takes his oldest son to school in the morning before going to the golf course. He comes home to eat lunch with Conor and returns to practice until it's time to pick up Tyrone in the afternoon.
 
If there is any good that has come out of this, he has grown closer to his boys.
 
'I've had to look after them a bit more than what I normally have done,' Clarke said. 'Heather suffered for four years, basically, and it was very difficult to watch that. But since she's passed away, I'm happy with my relationship with my kids.'
 
He has thought about bringing them to opening ceremonies on Thursday -- a time when players make a grand entrance with their wives at their sides -- but isn't sure he can take them away from school. And they won't be around when the matches start at what is expected to be the biggest sports event in Ireland.
 
'They're not quite tall enough to see over everybody,' he said.
 
The unknown is how his game can stack up to the pressure of the Ryder Cup, and how his emotions handle three days of the biggest frenzy in golf. The loudest cheer all week might be when Clarke's name is announced on the first tee.
 
'It will be fantastic for him to play,' said Tiger Woods, one of Clarke's closest friends on the U.S. tour whose father died in May after a long battle with cancer. 'It will be fantastic for him to have teammates around him. I still think it's going to be hard because every player has his wife there. It's going to be hard in that environment at times. He knows that. We've talked about that. You have to deal with it one day, and it might as well be now.'
 
Clarke returned last week at the Madrid Masters, where he opened with a 68 and finished 15 shots behind. He was disappointed but has high expectations this week.
 
'I wasn't going out there just to try and play and shoot a decent number,' he said. 'I've worked very hard to get myself back onto that first tee. I was there to play.'
 
Even so, the 38-year-old from Northern Ireland cannot escape questions about the state of his game, much less his head.
 
'To come to the Ryder Cup in Ireland will be emotional enough for Irish players, but to have this on top of it ...,' Nick Faldo said last week. 'All these things will lift him, and I'm sure the bottom line is Heather would have wished that if anything happened to her, she would want him to play for the Ryder Cup. It will be gut-wrenching at times, but he will be strong and want to be part of it.'
 
Clarke is among the most popular players on both teams, mixing as easily with Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk as he does with Lee Westwood and Paul McGinley. A British golf writer once described him as someone who knew the inside of a Ferrari, the outside of a cigar and the bottom of a glass of Guinness.
 
Win or lose, U.S. captain Tom Lehman expects him to be a central figure in these matches.
 
'I think he's going to make the European team stronger,' Lehman said. 'I think he's going to make the Ryder Cup better. And I think it would not be nearly as good a Ryder Cup without him.'
 
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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

    Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

    “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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    Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

    “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

    The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

    “All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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    Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

    He picked up his clubs three times.

    That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

    This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

    Not that he was concerned, of course.

    Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

    “It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

    At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

    “I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

    Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

    Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

    Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

    In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

    That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

    “He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

    “I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

    Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

    Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

    So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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    Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

    By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

    Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

    Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

    Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

    He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

    “I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

    “With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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    Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

    So much for that.

    Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

    He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

    What’s the difference now?


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

    “I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

    Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

    “I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”