Clark lends hand to fan in Players gallery

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – As morning action on the front nine of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass produced another episode in the soap opera that is Tiger Woods, a small glimpse of true human spirit went virtually unnoticed on the back nine.

Except that Tim Clark did notice. For that, a rousing ovation, please, and hand him another trophy for being a players’ champion.

Having just hit a shot that is as unnerving as any in golf, the tee ball at the island-green 17th here in Round 1 of The Players Championship, Clark walked toward the green when he stopped and looked around. So often, PGA Tour players are accused of being self-absorbed, but Clark proved that you can’t pin that tag on him. He and his caddie, Steve Underwood, stared back toward the gallery and shook their heads.

“That marshal just made a lady in a wheelchair go all the way around,” Clark said, clearly upset.

Last year, Clark made this Players Championship his first PGA Tour win, but what he was now doing said far more about his character. He approached a walking security official, pointed out what he saw, and the officer acted immediately.

Turns out, the lady in question, Donna Marini, 43, is a quadriplegic and a huge Sergio Garcia fan. She and her husband, Mike, live in Orlando and usually watch Garcia play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This year, they watched Garcia play at the Transitions Championship near Tampa, at which time Garcia invited the couple up to The Players Championship.

“He was nice enough to give us tickets for the whole week,” Mike Marini said.

Told how Clark, who was paired with Garcia and Adam Scott, had reacted when he saw the situation at the 17th hole, Mike Marini looked genuinely touched.

“That’s really nice of him,” he said.

“It’s just something you’d notice,” Clark said. “My wife’s (Candace) mother is in a chair. I guess you probably get more sensitive to stuff like that. You’d just hope that people would use some sort of common sense in the way they treat people.

“As players, everyone of us in the group, no one would have had a problem with someone (in a chair) coming down the path.”

Mike Marini, however, didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, and clearly the situation quickly got tournament officials’ attention. At so many points at the Stadium Course there are areas where people in wheelchairs can get prime viewing, but there are spots where cart paths are roped off so that those in the motor scooters, such as Donna Marini, are forced to go onto the grass. Unfortunately, the route Mike and Donna were told to take was a grassy hill that was still a bit wet.

“It wasn’t easy, and we had to be careful,” Mike said, but he emphasized that he wasn’t upset with the marshal. Instead, he said Clark’s reaction was the key part of the story that should be told. After all, it’s not as if the South Africa were burning it up and clearly having a good time. Having failed to birdie the par-5 16th, he was 1 over in his round, and it got worse a few minutes later when he three-putted from 30 feet at the 17th green.

Fact is, no one in the group was having much fun – Scott and Clark both going out in 2 over 38, Garcia in 40.

That was more painful to Mike and Donna Marini, who first met Garcia six years ago at the Tavistock Cup. “He’s been great to us ever since,” Mike said.

Because of Garcia’s generosity, the couple see golf as “something we can do together,” Mike said, “and there’s not a lot of things we can do together.”

To make the trip from Orlando to Ponte Vedra Beach in time for Garcia’s 8:29 assignment, Mike set the alarm for 3 a.m. and the couple were on the road while it was seemingly the middle of the night. “Traveling is a lot of work,” he said. “But it’s worth it.”

Donna was injured in a car accident on the night of her 21st birthday, Mike said. But watching her move around the Stadium Course on a very warm day made was inspiring stuff – though it drew barely any interest against a backdrop of hysteria about yet another Woods knee story.

Fortunately, some did notice. Most of all, Clark.

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