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Clarke reaches out to Phil and Amy Mickelson

Darren Clarke knows, all too well, what Phil and Amy Mickelson are coping with.

Clarke, the gregarious pro from Northern Ireland, lost his wife, Heather, to breast cancer in August 2006. Two of the first people to help him through the ensuing weeks were the Mickelsons, especially through the Ryder Cup three weeks later in Ireland.

"He and Amy helped me through that Ryder Cup, walking on and off with me at the opening ceremony and closing ceremony," Clarke said recently. "Then Amy took my arm and then they took me to the other side, which was supposed to be for players and their wives. Amy got involved in that. They have been very kind to me."

So it was only natural that Clarke reach out to the Mickelsons last month, when Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Phil had not yet arrived at Bethpage Black Monday, but Clarke was looking forward to seeing his friend.

"It's always good to have him come out and play," Clarke said after a rain-shortened practice round. He finished in a six-way tie for 24th here in 2002. "The support on the tour has been fantastic. We may all try to bash each other's brains in on the course every week, but it's a big family."

That was further illustrated by a piece of paper taped inside the door of the clubhouse locker room. It informed anyone who cared to read that Billy Foster, Lee Westwood's caddie - and Clarke's caddie for 11 years, including the time Heather was battling cancer - would be walking from Loch Lomond to Turnberry on July 9, a week before the start of the British Open at Turnberry, in Scotland.

The reason for the 90-mile trek? To raise funds for the Darren Clarke Foundation, a breast cancer group, plus a local Scottish children's cancer charity.

"I meant to do it in 2000, the last time the British Open was in Turnberry," Foster said. "But with Heather's passing, this was the right time. We all know one another, we all know Phil and Amy. This is something that touches everyone."

Clarke declined Monday to say what he and the Mickelsons have talked about in the weeks since Amy's diagnosis, but he did elaborate on the initial chat last month.

"I spoke to him and we had a good conversation about various things," Clarke said. "I understand probably more than anybody, well not more than anybody because a lot of people have suffered from it. But he is a good friend. It's very sad news, but it's early stages, so we hope all the tests and everything else go as well as we all wish for."

Clarke said the course Monday played much softer than it did in 2002. "Balls were running through fairways then," he said.

Things were very different for him then too. Now, after so much sadness away from the course and camaraderie from his fellow golfers, he can provide some of the same to Mickelson.

"Friendship is more than just golf," Clarke said. "You try to help any way you can."

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