Once struck by lightning, Scooter Clark hopes to bottle it at The First Tee of Greater Baltimore

Scooter Clark has long believed that much of his life has been scripted.

That happens when someone is believed to be dead after being struck by lightning, which Clark was as a 17-year-old high school student working at the University of Maryland Golf Course for the school’s former coach, Fred Funk.

That also happens when, after spending the past seven years as the men’s and women’s golf coach at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., Clark was a finalist to coach the men’s team at Towson but didn’t get the job.

A few days later, Clark received a phone call from Mike Hudak, chairman of the The First Tee of Greater Baltimore. Though Hudak had talked to dozens of potential candidates, they didn’t seem as good a fit as Clark, who started as its executive director last week.

Those two incidents, 30 years apart, not only helped shape Clark’s past as a college golfer and later a college golf coach, but also his future — and the future of the 800 or so Baltimore youth who are members of the city’s grass-roots golf program and the thousands of kids who might someday join.

“Everything just seemed to fall into place,” Clark said last week at Caves Valley Golf Club before the start of the Constellation Senior Players Championship. “There’s a bigger reason as to why I am in back in Maryland. My purpose is to change lives, and golf is my platform.”

Clark’s life changed dramatically May 31, 1987. A promising high school player at Paint Branch High in Burtonsville, Clark was working as a “cart boy” for Funk at Maryland’s golf course, picking up balls on the range and helping out in the pro shop.

When a shipment of “Response” putters similar to the one Jack Nicklaus used to win the 1986 Masters arrived that day, Clark asked Funk if he could take one to the practice green and try it out. Though it was a sunny day, Funk warned the teenager of an approaching thunderstorm.

“The first putt I hit it, I got struck by lightning,” Clark said. “I had to be resuscitated three to four times. I had a seizure, a collapsed lung. I was in a coma for 36 hours.They informed my parents that I was going to be incapacitated for the rest of my life.”

One of the first to get to Clark after he had been struck, Funk recalled how he and others started performing CPR. Among them was Dr. Stephen Fahey, the physician for many of the school's athletic teams who had rushed in off the course himself to get out of the storm.

“It was a blessing in disguise. There was a doctor playing No. 1 and he got there and started doing mouth-to-mouth,” Funk recalled last week during the PGA Tour Champions event. “We lost him three more times at least before he went off to the hospital.”

A little over a month later, after a three-week stay at the Washington Hospital Center, Clark returned to his job.

“It was July 4th weekend and it stormed pretty bad,” Clark recalled. “I was in the golf shop and the guys were saying, ‘Scooter, you don’t want to go out there.’ I said, ‘No, I’m good, I’ll stay right here.’ It was definitely a life-changing experience.”

That fall, Clark became the first (and still only) African-American to win the Maryland state boys golf title.

“All the things I’ve done and been exposed to since the accident, it’s my passion and my responsibility to give others the same opportunity to change lives,” said Clark, now 47.

Clark went to play golf at Southern University as a freshman before returning to Maryland to play for Don Slobodnik, who succeeded Funk as the team's coach. After graduating in 1995, Clark spent two years as Slobodnik’s assistant.

Funk then called, helping Clark get a job as an assistant pro at the prestigious Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., site of the Players Championship. The two remain close friends and Clark credits much of his professional success to Funk.

“Scooter is a genuine, quality guy and has a passion for life in general, but also for the kids and helping them deal with life, especially that age group,” Funk said. “He’s really a guy that everyone will look up to and be a father figure. He’s calm, cool. He was like that before the [lightning] strike and didn’t change after it.”

Clark has experience working for The First Tee, a national organization that was started in 1997, growing out of Tiger Woods’ explosion on the PGA Tour.

Aimed to introduce golf to economically disadvantaged youth, it has expanded to more than 180 chapters. The Baltimore chapter was started in 2006. Clark worked in the Chicago chapter in the early 2000s while coaching at Chicago State.

“It was in its infancy, to be honest,” Clark said. “The landscape of the organization has changed. It’s grown immensely. If I’m looking long-range, there’s a disconnect with the kids in the program who graduate from high school, and then from high school, where do they go? We’re trying to bridge that gap, finding scholarships, more career development programs.”

Hudak is confident that Clark is a “perfect fit” in Baltimore. Hudak had spent more than six months interviewing “about 40 candidates” before talking to Clark on the recommendation of then Towson women’s golf coach Kate Schanuel, who left last week for the same job at Georgetown.

“She said, ‘You’ve got to take a look at this guy,’ ” Hudak said Monday. “She sends me his resume and I call the guy and I said, ‘Look, I don’t know if this is divine intervention or not, everything I’ve heard about you makes sense.’ We talked for about an hour and it all made sense.”

Clark spent a day with Hudak meeting with First Tee officials, as well as professionals at the five municipal courses and 14 private clubs involved in the program.

“It was kind of an interview, but I wanted to see how he would react through the process,” Hudak said. “He’s very talented. He just rolled with it. When I made him the offer, I told him that I needed him to understand that a very important part of this process is fundraising. We need to raise a significant amount of money to keep this chapter going.”

The next morning, Clark called Hudak to turn the job down, concerned he was not that successful as a fundraiser at Bethune-Cookman despite coaching the men’s and women’s teams to a combined 11 national championships.

Hudak wanted him even more.

“I told him, ‘Scooter, what I just found out is that you have honesty and integrity and most people would say, “I can do it” when they can’t do it,’ ” recalled Hudak. “ ‘You think you can’t do it and I think you can do it. It’s just a matter of introducing you to the right people.’ I talked him off the ledge because he wasn’t going to take the job.”

What Hudak saw as Clark made the rounds at Caves Valley last week made him feel good about his new executive director.

“He can develop relationships very quickly and follow up,” Hudak said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any problem.”

One more incident that happened as Clark was getting ready for his new job also pointed toward him following the script as he has since he was a teenager.

After accepting the job, Clark had stopped on the drive to Maryland from his home in DeLand, Fla., to spend time with his siblings, who live in Fayetteville, N.C. Clark got a late-night phone call from his 78-year-old mother, Lillian, and a stepbrother telling him the family’s home in Silver Spring had been badly damaged in a fire.

Clark stopped second-guessing himself taking this new job and leaving Florida after more than two decades.

“At that point, everything seemed to piece together,” Clark said last week. “I could see the bigger picture. Part of the trepidation was the fact that, ‘Who wants to leave Florida?’ In the back of mind, I knew my mother was getting older. Just signs from start to finish. … It’s kind of been part of a journey to bring me back here. I said to my mom and family members, ‘There’s something bringing me back to the area, and I think this is it.’ ”

Meet Scooter Clark

Given Name: Loritz. Nickname handed down by late father, Lucious, also known as Scooter

Age: 47

Hometown: Silver Spring

Wife: Amber

College: University of Maryland, 1995

Golf career: Maryland state champion at Paint Branch; played at Southern University for one season, Maryland for two.

Professional career: Assistant pro at University of Maryland Golf Course (1994-1995); assistant pro at TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (1996-1998); sales representative and college coordinator for Titleist and FootJoy (1998-1999); operations and tournament official for Champions Tour (1999-2001); director of marketing, junior programming for KemperSports (2001-2002); women’s golf coach at Chicago State (2001-2004) ; golf operations manager for Disney Sports (2004-2008); director of intercollegiate golf, men’s and women’s golf coach at Bethune-Cookman (2010-2017)

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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