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PINEHURST: Defending US Open champion Wyndham Clark is frustrated because he has not played consistently in recent weeks and he’s not even sure why practice success isn’t replicated in competition.

And he’s the world’s fourth-ranked golfer.

The 30-year-old American defends his first major crown starting Thursday at the 124th US Open at Pinehurst.

“My frustration level is definitely higher than it has been in a long time, so yeah, it’s kind of a bummer,” Clark said. “It’s the great thing about golf – there’s always another week. I’ve got to believe that good golf is around the corner.”

Clark won a breakthrough major at last year’s US Open at Los Angeles Country Club, edging Rory McIlroy by a stroke, and took his third US PGA Tour title at the weather-shortened Pebble Beach Pro-Am four months ago.

But Clark has had an inconsistent season, contending some weeks and unable to make the cut in others.

“I’m hitting a lot of good shots in practice. I’ve got to be able to take it to the course,” Clark said. “I’m hoping it’s this week and it starts a good run the rest of the year.”

Clark was a runner-up to top-ranked Scottie Scheffler in back-to-back weeks at Bay Hill and the Players Championship in March, but has missed the cut in three of his past five starts, including last week’s Memorial plus the Masters and PGA Championship.

“I haven’t been playing my best golf. It has been a tough stretch these last few weeks,” Clark said. “Really I’m trying to gain some momentum for the rest of the season. I know that maybe sounds like low expectations for the week, but honestly I’d love to just gain some momentum.”

Clark has searched in vain so far for answers to his troubles.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “You look at the stats and things look bad, but yet in practice, it’s good. It has been really puzzling to me because I’ll hit great shots or I’ll play 13 really good holes, but I’m not getting much out of ’em.

“I kind of have four or five not-so-good holes. I end up shooting 1- or 2-over. I do that two rounds and you miss the cut. So that has been really frustrating.”

Barely a month after winning his first PGA Tour title last year at Quail Hollow, Clark won his first major. That sent his expectations soaring.

“I have to work on my expectations, just not putting so much pressure on myself,” Clark said. “It’s tough. It’s challenging being one of the top players, especially doing it as quickly as I did.

“It’s frustrating for me that I’m not as consistent right now. I’ve been kind of bummed as of late with my game.”

‘Lonely and difficult’

Clark noted the plight of the average PGA Tour player who goes away frustrated and beaten rather than the winners featured on television.

“Too often I think players, including myself, get tied up so much in score and outcome, and the game of golf is so frustrating and so hard.

There are those really lonely times when you miss the cut, throw your clubs in the car, drive off, and you’re very pissed off,“ Clark said.

Amateur, 22, is first Singaporean golfer to qualify for Masters

“On TV they typically show the guys playing great. The game seems awesome. In reality I’d say 80% of the field storms off pretty pissed off after a lot of the rounds.”

Clark called last month’s suicide of US golfer Grayson Murray “sad and tragic” as he noted PGA life’s woes.

“The unfortunate thing for what we do is it’s so lonely and it’s very difficult,” Clark said. “I’ve been in many low spots where you have some negative thoughts which you don’t ever want to have.

“Golf can do that to you. You got to do your best to not let it do that.”

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