By Grant Boone, Special to PGA.com
Sunday afternoon outside of Denver, Dean Wilson defeated Tom Lehman in "sudden death," and the world yawned. Hours before on the other side of the world, a wife and mother of two succumbed to cancer. Three days later, the golf community continues to mourn.
There was nothing sudden about the death of Heather Clarke. Married to Darren, the usually-impish Ulsterman, and mom to Tyrone, 8, and Conor, 5, Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2001, then courageously waged war with it for nearly five years 'til Sunday when she died at a London hospital, a day before Darren turned 38. She was 39.
The PGA Championship and Heather's funeral are both scheduled for Thursday. Finding closure for one is a lot easier than the other. Remaining with Clarke at home is good friend and fellow Irishman Paul McGinley, who withdrew from the PGA when the news broke. The rest of the field, divided by national borders but united in their love and respect for Clarke, will be at Medinah in body but Ireland in spirit.
They say the two things you shouldn't discuss in polite company are religion and politics. Perhaps that's because the former has too often (as in the case of Clarke's homeland) been an excuse, if not a weapon, to selfishly manipulate the latter. But "they" aren't usually around when a man buries his bride and little boys are left to give their mommy one last kiss goodbye. So here goes.
First, no matter whom or what you worship, this is awful. I'll go ahead and tip my hand and tell you I've pushed my chips to the center of the table for the Great Three of a Kind: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Having experienced the Flop, then the Turn, I'm now preparing for the River. On my better days, my faith doesn't just drive me to church on Sunday mornings; it drives every one of my relationships, decisions, desires, etc. On days like this, it drives me to my knees in prayer for one man and two boys whose lives will never be the same.
Second, before you ask the obvious question, let me end any and all suspense by acknowledging I have no idea how a good God can watch a husband widowed and two boys orphaned without stepping in to stop it. But what if I did have an answer - even the greatest answer of all time - would it really make this week any easier for the Clarke family?
Darren doesn't need answers, he needs his beloved. And those boys don't need words of wisdom, they need their mom. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. This should've been the week Heather helped Tyrone pick out a new lunchbox and get Conor his crayons for kindergarten. This should've been a month of frantically finalizing plans for the most exciting week in the history of Irish golf with the Ryder Cup coming to County Kildare in September. But instead of pub songs, the kind of background music playing when Darren and Heather first met in a Portrush nightclub, the ditties have turned to dirges. And now, Darren's participation at any level in the proceedings at the K Club is very much in question.
On one hand, you want to see Clarke play, more for what his teammates could give him than vice-versa. You want that intense camaraderie, so unique to the Ryder Cup, to wrap its arms around this teddy bear of a man. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Clarke mustering the energy to get excited about something so comparatively meaningless.
Clarke's presence would, at least for this year, provide proper perspective and empty the Ryder Cup of its often unhealthy level of international ill will. And that would be fitting, seeing as how Clarke is one of the few Cup participants of the last 20 years who's always understood the balance between sportsmanship and parochial passion. He calls the fourball match in 1999 when he teamed with Lee Westwood to knock off Tiger Woods and David Duval, at the time ranked 1-2 in the world, the most fun he's ever had on a golf course. And not because his side won. All four players chatted and chuckled their way around the course, the whole time trying to win but doing so in a way that honors the spirit of the competition.
Whatever Clarke decides about playing next month will be the right thing. But it's not really next month that concerns me. And my faith isn't shaken in the grand scheme of things. I'm completely comfortable with the idea that there are things I'll understand in the future which I simply can't in the present. We've all played holes that seemed a lot tougher staring out from the tee than looking back from the green.
What I weep for are the coming days and months which won't be played out on the public stage, when the current outpouring of love and sympathy begins to wane. When Heather's absence, in big moments and small, seem overwhelming. It is for those times that I pray Darren, Tyrone, and Conor Clarke will hear the echo of Ireland's patron saint, Patrick:
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me.
Grant Boone is a husband, father, golf broadcaster, and sports journalist based in Abilene, Texas. His column appears on PGA.com each Wednesday and every day during major championships and other big events. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed here do not reflect those of PGA.com or The PGA of America.
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