Clark looks to Gary Player for inspiration

Tim Clark will play his first tournament in South Africa in two years this week when he tees it up in the Gary Player Invitational, presented by Coca-Cola, at Zimbali Country Club. It’s a significant decision for Clark, who is looking to relaunch his career on the back of an injury and has turned to Player to provide the inspiration.

Clark is one of the star attractions in a field including former Ryder Cup captains Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam, Ladies European Tour professional Carly Booth, double senior Major champion Roger Chapman, football legends Ian Wright and Kenny Dalglish, actors Angie Everhart and Jack Wagner, Irish pop star Brian McFadden, and a host of businessmen and women who have come together for a tournament that has raised over R25 million for children’s charities in South Africa over the years.

Clark last teed it up on South African fairways in the 2010 South African Open at Durban Country Club. He’s since been plagued by an elbow injury that has seen him play a limited schedule on the PGA Tour and drop from a once regular place in the top 20 on the world ranking to 92nd.

“It does feel like a relaunch of my career,” said Clark. And he’s hoping that playing alongside Player for the sixth time in his charity tournament this week provides the same spark it did when he made his debut in this event in 2000. Clark was just a rookie professional then with two victories on the Nationwide Tour when he received an invitation from Player to play in this charity tournament for the first time.

“It was such a huge thrill for me. I was just a young pro at the time, and to have had Gary Player even think of inviting me was a big deal. It meant a lot to me. I always feel like that was the start of my career. Something like that can really inspire you as a golfer and it was a big thing for me back then.”

Since that tournament, Clark went on to win 11 times worldwide, finish third in the 2003 PGA Championship, third in the 2005 US Open and second in the 2006 Masters. He claimed his biggest victory in the 2010 Players Championship.

Clark has also played in three Presidents Cups, and Player’s influence on his career was in evidence here as well. It was Player who made Clark one of his captain’s picks for the 2003 Presidents Cup in South Africa.

“Gary Player has done so much for my career, but also this country. Anything he lends his name to and is involved with is a great honour for us golfers to be a part of as well.”

Clark has also taken Player’s spirit of generosity to heart. When he and Vincent Tshabalala won this tournament in 2005, Clark donated his winner’s cheque of R80 000 to Chevonne Adams, a girl at the Carel du Toit Centre for the Hearing Impaired in Cape Town, who used the money to pay for her cochlear implant. It inspired Coca-Cola to add R40,000 of its own for the operation.

“Tim really gets it,” Player said of Clark’s involvement in his tournament. “We all know that the core reason this event is staged is to make a difference in children’s lives, and Tim’s generosity made a real difference in Chevonne’s life by enabling her to undergo that vital operation.”

Of his own form before this tournament, Clark said his elbow is feeling strong again as he builds towards the 2013 season. “It feels like every month the arm is getting stronger, so this is a great time of year for me to start preparing for next year. Next year is all about playing a full season for me, and getting into the PGA Tour season right from the start. Last season I kind of started around February or March. I was nowhere close to ready for tournament golf. Next year I’ll be able to start right at the get go in Hawaii and feel like I can go into the season with some early form and get my rankings up and start getting into the Majors again.”

The Gary Player Invitational, presented by Coca-Cola, is open to the public on Saturday November 24 and Sunday November 25. Tickets are R75 a day and available from Computicket. Entry for children under 18, accompanied by an adult, is free. The tournament starts at 10am on Saturday and at 9am on Sunday.

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