Visa issues could keep Tim Clark out of British Open

Rory McIlroy’s absence at the upcoming Open Championship? Credit a left ankle that is probably black and blue. But if Tim Clark doesn’t get a chance to tee it up, the explanation will be owed to a political world of red tape.

“Very frustrating,” Clark said Wednesday, right before taking part in the afternoon pro-am at the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. “I knew this could happen, so I contacted the R&A quite a few weeks ago. But now? It’s late, and I don’t think I can get this sorted out.”

As a South African, Clark is subjected to strict new visa laws that his country enacted to combat child trafficking. When he knows he’s going to play somewhere other than in the U.S., where he holds a visa, he has to plan months in advance. It starts with a meeting to apply for the visa where he undergoes “biometrics” such as finger-printing. But to make an appointment, interested parties must start with a letter confirming they have reason for a visa, and that’s where Clark thinks the R&A let him down.

“They said six weeks ago that they wouldn’t send the letter because I wasn’t yet exempt into the tournament,” Clark said.

When Clark earned an exemption after the Travelers Championship for his world ranking, he said it was too late to get the letter to set up the meeting to apply for a visa. “I needed it six weeks ago,” he said.

A spokesman for The R&A offered this statement: “Upon confirmation that Tim Clark was in the field for The Open, The R&A issued a letter supporting his visa application. This is in line with our usual practice and has never presented any issues in the past.”

Clark, 39, was vacationing in the Bahamas with his wife and children when he got word that he was in the Open. He said he asked the R&A to help expedite the process on his behalf but wasn’t given much encouragement. The R&A spokesman, however, said they were still hopeful the situation could be resolved.

“They were able to keep women out of their club for 200 years, but they can’t help one guy get into their tournament,” he said.

Clark, who recently returned to PGA Tour competition after sitting out for five months with an elbow injury, has played in nine Open Championships, including twice at St. Andrews: T-23 in 2005 and a missed cut in 2010.

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