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Why Wyndham Clark is a cocky man so far at this U.S. Open

LOS ANGELES – Entering Friday’s second round of the 123rd U.S. Open, Wyndham Clark had three mini-goals:

1. Enjoy himself on a beautiful golf course.

2. Be cocky.

3. Remind himself of the first two goals.

Clark checked off all three while posting a second-round, 3-under 67 to take the clubhouse lead at Los Angeles Country Club. As Clark, sitting at 9 under addressed the media, first-round co-leader Rickie Fowler was just teeing off in his encore to Thursday’s U.S. Open-record 62.

The 29-year-old Clark, whose best major finish in six starts is T-75, didn’t expect to be atop the leaderboard come Friday night, but he still had a lot to be confident about.

As Clark enjoys a breakout campaign that’s included a win (Wells Fargo) and seven other top-20s, he has made a glaring improvement in his iron play. One of the longest players on Tour, Clark ranked No. 23 in strokes gained approach entering this week. In four previous seasons on Tour, he’d never finished the year ranked better than No. 173.

If you ask Clark, he’s made a couple changes to unlock his approach game. He adjusted his lie angle on his irons, from relatively flat to 3 degrees upright, about a year and a half ago, and he also promoted himself to his own instructor.

“It’s myself and my caddie pretty much who monitor my golf swing,” Clark said. “I don’t have a swing coach. That’s helped me own my swing and own my game. And so, when I’m out there, if it doesn’t feel right, I at least know what to do. I think in the past I was too reliant on someone telling me what to do that I didn’t own it.”

Clark carded four birdies to just one bogey on Friday. At the end of his round, he ranked top 10 in strokes gained off the tee, around the green and putting. He was slightly in the negative approach, but he had already diagnosed his problem by his presser, eager to head to the range after to fix an iron swing that is “a little steep to protect it from going left right now.”

“I’m almost playing a swipe cut that is going a little bit shorter than my normal numbers would,” Clark added. “What I will say is the last couple irons I hit did feel better. Like the one on hole 9, my 18th hole. I flushed an 8-iron and actually hit the correct yardage. But we’re going to probably go out there and try to hit some tight draws and get my swing back to neutral so that hopefully going into tomorrow I feel confident about it.”

Clark’s shot of the day in Round 2 may end up being the up-and-down of the championship through 36 holes – at least. He tugged his second shot at the par-5 14th hole into the fescued bunker lip, the pin tucked behind the right trap. With almost zero green to work with, Clark skied a flop that landed near the hole and bounded to 13 feet. He followed the hero shot by rolling in the birdie.

Asked how many times out of 100 he could pull that off again, Clark responded, well, like he would expect himself to.

“I had a good lie, so I’d say I would do 70 or 80 out of 100, honestly,” Clark said. “If it wasn’t a U.S. Open and a tournament, I think it’s that number. But in a tournament, it’s probably way less because you have the nerves. I just felt like I kind of manned up and hit the shot, and then obviously making that putt was huge.”

“… I was feeling a little cocky about that.”