It was January 2002 at Durban Country Club, venue for the South African Open (which was, as is the case today, part of the European Tour), and 25-year-old Tim Clark was spitting mad. As a young professional he had won twice on the Canadian Tour and twice on the Buy.com Tour (now Nationwide Tour), yet he had been told he was not exempt for his own national open and would have to pre-qualify. He felt it was totally unfair, and so did a lot of other people.
It was a sultry summer and the rough was up after all the rain, but Clark – the little man with a big heart who had played the course many times as a Natal junior and amateur – went out with an “I’ll show ’em” attitude and scored a fantastic 65 to lead the qualifiers home.
At the post-round interview he was asked how he had found the rough. “I can’t answer that,” he replied, with a hint of smile, “because I’ve never been in the rough at Durban Country Club.”
That response summed up Clark. He has a sharp sense of humour, and his answer wasn’t too far from the truth because he is one of the straightest hitters the game has seen, rarely straying off line into jungle country.
Anyhow, over the next four days he shot 66, 70, 68 and 65 for a record 19-under-par 269 return to become the first player to come through an SA Open pre-qualifier before going on to triumph in the tournament itself.
And so began a remarkable career on the major tours of the world. Now 36, he has won 13 times around the world – including the Players Championship (the unofficial “fifth Major”), the Australian Open, the Scottish Open, the Canadian PGA and two SA Opens. He was also runner-up in the 2006 Masters, and has been third in both the US Open and the US PGA Championship.
On the PGA Tour alone he has career earnings of $19 202 036, and that works out at close to a hefty R160 million.
This remarkable career, though, looked in jeopardy of ending last year when a debilitating elbow injury had him sidelined for virtually the whole year. It was an intensely frustrating time for the “Umkomaaster” but, finally, after surgery and a long period of rehab, he is back – and with a vengeance, too, as he proved in last week’s Wyndham Championship, when he finished second behind Sergio Garcia.
Now he’s in the FedExCup play-offs and his many fans will wish him well, not only because the man from Umkomaas in KZN is such a nice guy, but also because of the way he’s defied the odds. Not only is he small, and one of the shortest hitters on tour, but he was born with a congenital wrist condition that prevents him being able to rotate his forearms, which in turn restricts the way he can swing a golf club.
Yet his dogged determination and refusal to let go led to Gary Player naming him the “Bulldog” during the Presidents Cup.
Now, on the golf course at least, this Bulldog is again looking for a fight – a fight I’m sure we’re all going to enjoy watching. – Saturday Star