Ada, Mich. (July 21) - High school teammates Wyndham Clark and Spencer Sheets had a game plan in place even before sectional qualifying for this year’s U.S. Junior Amateur took place.
The two Coloradans wouldsuccessfully qualify at Boomerang Golf Links in Greeley, Colo., and make the trip to Egypt Valley, the site of this week’s national championship, together. It only seemed fitting that the two best friends, Clark, from Greenwood Village, and Sheets, from Centennial, followed through on the blueprint by finishing 1-2 in the qualifying round.
After all, the two friends have been nearly inseparable since poking around par-3 leagues together as pre-teens. Later, it was Sheets, a year older than Clark, who encouraged his friend to enter Valor Christian High School in Highland Ranch, Colo.
At the time, Clark’s junior career was on the ascent, but the move, he know, was roiled with the accompanying nervousness of acclimating himself to new surroundings. Initially, it rivaled the awkwardness of stepping onto a crowded school bus and looking for a seat in the back with backpacks lining the floor. Sheets was the first to clear the path.
He was the only kid I knew, said Clark, now 16. Since day one on the golf team as a freshman, we started to become really good friends and now he’s my best friend. It was weird for the first couple of days because everyone heard that I was a good player, but he stuck with me and we hung out.
They quickly developed a bond and teamed to win a 4A state championship as a part of the Valor Christian High golf team in the fall of 2009, giving the infant program instant life by securing its first golf title in the school’s then three-year existence. The squad certainly wasn’t short on talent or direction; another prep teammate of Clark’s and Sheets, Lindsay McGetrick, is competing in this week’s U.S. Girls Junior at The Country Club of North Carolina in Village of Pinehurst, N.C. Valor’s coach, Jason Preeo, made the cut at this year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
A year removed from letting a four-shot lead slip at the state championship, Clark summoned uncanny inner strength to take the individual title. In life as in golf, they learned, it’s easy to celebrate the good times. But the fickle nature of the game often examines the time-honored tradition that holds the true test of friendship is how it endures during difficult times. It’s one of many areas in which they’ve both achieved high honors.
At last week’s Trans-Mississippi Golf Championship at Denver (Colo.) Country Club, Clark was the youngest competitor in the field at age 16 and, carrying the weight of his own high expectations, he ballooned to a disappointing 79 in the first round. Sheets showed up for support after Clark’s game and mindset was temporarily in tatters.
I thought that because I was invited to [the Trans-Miss] that I needed to do well and felt pressure from other people. I didn’t break par one day and just played awful, Clark says. Each day, I was really down on myself. I got into a really negative place and when he came out and watched me, I felt a lot better. Things got better as the tournament went on and I started hitting it better and got some confidence coming [to the U.S. Junior Amateur].
It shows. Clark shot shot 6-under-par 138 (68-70) and was the seventh-low qualifier for match play. He’ll face Midwesterner Andrew Fogg of Greenwood, Ind., in Wednesday’s opening round of match play.
After Sheets opened with a first-day 80, Clark, the owner of an afternoon starting time, went out to watch a portion of his second round. As Clark was completing the stroke play portion of the championship in the afternoon, Sheets watched every moment, a nice gesture that implicitly said, To have a friend is to be a friend.
He always comes out and supports me, so I try and come out and return the favor, says Sheets, showing the maturity of a player twice his age.
It’s no accident that the two have become so close and have developed a bond that can’t be measured on a scorecard. They’ve admittedly shared a faith journey together formed and nurtured at school and through a mission trip to the Bahamas this spring.
We’re best buddies, but we have a similar relationship in our faith; that makes it even closer. We keep each other accountable, Clark says.
They’ve learned that one’s journey through the heights of excellence and depths of despair are something that humans can’t control.
He’ll give me some encouraging words and a lot of times that helps, because you can go to some negative places with this game. The game is so tough, Clark says. He’s really helped me in the tough times and when I’m playing well, he’s there, too.
Of course, no teen friendship would be complete without at-your-throat games of ping-pong at each other’s houses or the occasional loser-buys-Chipotle shuffleboard rivalry that was renewed after the first day of the Junior Amateur. Maybe it’s all a part of wanting the best for each other on and off the golf course; good habits, after all, start early.
We definitely push each other, but I think he definitely pushes me more than I push him, says Sheets, 17. We newsContent for each other and practice together, so there’s some good, friendly competition going on.
Good-natured ribbing has a place as well. Sheets’ favorite go-to area is Clark’s follow-through motion, which would previously seem to make one envious of an elastic back or uncanny coordination.
He makes fun of my old follow-through. I used to finish way over here, laughs Clark, nearly twisting his sternum behind him. It just didn’t look good. I’ll hit a shot and I’ll look over and he’s doing my old follow-through -- and making fun of me.
At this mention, Sheets pounces. He grabs a club, acts as though he’s going to play left-handed and mimics his friend’s since-discarded motion.
It’s better, Clark smiles in his friend’s direction.
No, it’s not, Sheets giggles, holding his finish as if to post for a Monet.
They both crack up and leave.
Andrew Blair is the communications director for the Virginia State Golf Association. He’s contributing articles at this week's U.S. Junior Amateur for the USGA.