Wyndham Clark, channeling his late mother’s memory, sits 1 back at midway point in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — As Wyndham Clark was walking down the course halfway through his opening round at the U.S. Open on Thursday, he couldn’t help but look up and smile to himself.

He was thinking of his late mother, Lise, and how much she’d be enjoying seeing him finally play at the level he knows he’s capable of at a major championship.

“It’s a dream come true to be doing this at the highest level in front of friends and family that are out here,” he said on Friday afternoon from Los Angeles Country Club while getting choked up. “Yeah, I wish she could be here.”

Lise died of breast cancer in 2013, when Clark was in college playing at Oklahoma State. Dealing with that a decade ago nearly drove Clark out of golf completely. He fell into a bit of a depression, transferred to Oregon to finish his college career and didn’t make it onto the PGA Tour until 2019.

Recently, Clark is finding his stride on Tour — and that has come alive this week at the U.S. Open.

After opening with a 64 on Thursday, Clark backed it up with a 3-under 67 on Friday. At 9-under for the tournament, that gave him the clubhouse lead at the third major championship of the season.

While it has been a decade since he lost his mother, Clark was thinking about her repeatedly on the course.

“I know she’s proud of me, and she’s made a huge impact on my life,” Clark said. “I am who I am today because of her. She was kind of my rock and my always-there supporter. So when things were tough or when things were going great, she was always there to keep me grounded and either bring me up or keep the high going. … She’s everything, and I miss her, and everything I do out here is a lot for her.”

Wyndham Clark

Wyndham Clark held the solo lead at the U.S. Open for the first time in his career on Friday afternoon when he walked off the course in Los Angeles. (AP/George Walker IV)

Clark’s lead at the U.S. Open won’t hold

Clark, 29, knew his lead in Southern California wouldn’t last.

In fact, within just a few minutes after he finished post-round interviews Friday, Rickie Fowler had already overtaken him. Fowler finished at 10-under at the halfway point, just a shot ahead of Clark.

For most of Clark’s round on Friday, it didn’t feel like he was leading the tournament, either — and that may have been a good thing. The biggest thing on his mind, he said, was simply heading home to reset before the weekend.

“I imagine I won’t be leading by the end of the day,” Clark said. “I imagine someone is going to go out there and get to 10-, 11-under, if not more.

“But yeah, I am glad to be done. I get to relax and work on my game and get ready for tomorrow.”

Clark was incredibly relaxed out on the course Friday, with only a relatively small crowd following him around as he played a fairly simple round. He made three birdies on his front nine, which briefly put him in the solo lead, and then offset his lone bogey of the day with a big up-and-down out of a fairway bunker on the par-5 eighth.

It wasn’t as flashy as his opening round, which he kicked off with a nearly 32-foot eagle putt from off the green on his first hole before adding seven other birdies. But it got the job done.

“I didn’t have my best on the approach today, so I’m hoping I can improve that and feel comfortable going into tomorrow,” he said. “But leading a major at any point at any time is always a good thing.”

Clark’s presence near the top of the leaderboard may be surprising to many.

He had never made the cut at the U.S. Open, and has made the cut at just two major championships before Friday. His best finish in a major was a tie for 75th, and he missed the cut at last month’s PGA Championship.

Despite that stumble in New York, Clark has been on a tear in the past several months. He has six top-25 finishes in his past eight starts, and he picked up his first PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship in May. He won that tournament at Quail Hollow Club, which he was nearly equating to a major championship based on its elevated status on Tour, by four strokes over the rest of the field.

Sure, Clark has a long way to go in order to pull off what would be a life-changing win this weekend. He has another 36 holes ahead of him.

For now, he’s in a great position to make a run come Sunday. And, perhaps most important, he feels like he belongs.

“I like the spot I’m in,” he said. “And nothing shocks me.”