Defending champ Wyndham Clark hopes to reclaim form at U.S. Open

Ahead of this week’s 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, the greens were the hot topic of the day Monday, particularly for defending champion Wyndham Clark.

Clark, who won last year at Los Angeles Country Club for his first major title, was surprised how much Pinehurst No. 2 had changed since a visit about a month earlier.

“The greens are extremely fast and penal,” he told reporters after Monday’s practice round. “You hit it on the green, the hole is not done. I was just amazed how fast the greens are.

“If they get any firmer and fast, they’d be borderline. They already are borderline.”

Clark said he and his playing partners had trouble keeping putts on the green and pushed uphill putts several feet past the hole.

“You have to play a lot of break on these greens,” he said. “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.”

As for being the defending champion in a major for the first time, Clark said he’s been in a bit of a rut lately and tempered his expectations.

“I haven’t been playing my best golf,” he said. “It’s been kind of a tough stretch these last few weeks. … I’d really like to hit some good shots, have some really good up and downs, make some key putts throughout the week, and play four solid rounds. That’s really what I’d love to do.”

Clark picked up his third career PGA title in February when he won at Pebble Beach in a weather-shortened event.

After a second-place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and a second-place tie at The Players Championship the following week, Clark missed the cut at The Masters, the PGA Championship and the Memorial over his past five starts.

Clark, who won his first PGA Tour event at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship a month before the U.S. Open, is at a loss to determine the cause of his recent struggles.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “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 them.

“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.”