[PHOTO: Patrick Smith]

The Ryder Cup is one of the rare times golf—a sport that pulls for all of its competitors—turns provincial. Players, coaches, fans, and yes, media. They not just cheer for their side but defend it at all costs, which occasionally means turning a perceived slight into bulletin board material for their boys. Wyndham Clark is well aware of this dynamic, which is why he expertly quelled an attempt to turn his recents comments into a controversy.

Clark, making his Ryder Cup debut at Marco Simone, told Golf Channel last week that he’d love a matchup against Rory McIlroy, who Clark beat by one stroke at LACC this June to win the U.S. Open. “I have the utmost respect for Rory—he is one of our great ambassadors of our game. He is obviously one of the best of all time and he is still going so he can be that. I have tons of respect for Rory and because of that respect, I also want to beat him,” Clark said. “I like to think I am better than him and I want to prove that. I would love to play Rory, I think that would be really fun for the fans too. Long-ball hitters. We have similar games in that respect. It would be a little bit of David and Goliath. I am hoping to get that chance. Regardless of who I play, I am really excited. But that one would be a lot of fun.”

Which, pretty innocuous, right? Well, some European backers considered said remarks disrespectful. That was apparent on Wednesday when Clark met with the media, when the very first question concerned his McIlroy quotes.

“Yeah, I want everyone to know, I think it was taken out of context. If you listen to the whole interview, I praised Rory and said how much I respect him and how good I think he is and how he’s one of the best players in the last 20 years,” Clark said. “And what I said was I think I’m better than him when I’m playing good —if I don’t think I’m better than every player out here, then what am I doing? If I’m trying to be the best player in the world, which is what I’m trying to be, I’ve got to believe that. Right now, maybe I’m not. He’s had a way better career than me, that’s obvious. But I also have to have that self-belief that I can beat anyone out here. It is kind of funny to me that people took it that way because they kind of saw that I’m better than him and I want to beat him. Well, of course I want to beat him and of course I believe that I can beat him. Yeah, it’s interesting how things get taken out of context.”

OK, controversy averted. We can move on, yes?

No, actually, as the third question was also about Clark’s McIlroy comments and the possibility of running into McIlroy on property. And Clark had no appetite to fan the fictional flames.

“Well, the question, when the guy asked it to me, what am I supposed to say? If I say I think he’s better than me and he’s going to beat me, then I’m going to get ridiculed because people don’t think I have any self-belief; and then if I have self-belief, which I do in myself, people take it out of context either way, so it was kind of a tough question,” Clark said. “But to the part of running into Rory, I don’t know if Rory saw the full interview or if he just saw the little snippet that everyone is running with or if he’s seen it at all. I have not seen him or talked to him. I would love to talk to him because I imagine he’d probably give me some jabs here and there.

“Like I said, I have so much respect for Rory. I’ve always looked up to him. Even when I was in college, Rory was winning majors. I’m like, man, one day I’d love to be Rory McIlroy.

“By no means did I say anything that was trying to belittle what he did or be cocky or arrogant; it’s more just self-belief in myself. I’d love to get a chance to play against him this week, and if it doesn’t happen, that’s fine. Anytime I get Rory in a pairing, I’m excited because I like to measure myself up against the best players in the world and see how I fare.”

There you have it. Clark respects McIlroy, he wants to beat McIlroy, he’s excited to be here. He may be a rookie, but Clark handled that potential minefield with the ease of a veteran.


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This article was originally published on golfdigest.com