Darren Clarke | Player Profile | Nedbank Golf Challengeon October 21, 2011
Two years ago, Darren Clarke joined a few European Tour players at a development clinic ahead of the Joburg Open. A child asked one of the professionals why Tiger Woods was so difficult to beat. The professional pointed to Clarke and told the child, “That man right over there has beaten him”. “Oooooooh yes,” said Clarke, with a broad smile. And then he held up two fingers. “Twice,” he added. “And in America”.
Such has been the talent and status of Darren Clarke that for many years the golf world could not fathom how the Ryder Cup star and winner of 22 tournaments worldwide could drop to outside the top 100 on the world rankings. And few ever thought he would return.
Following his first European Tour win in 1993, Clarke was a major force in the game until 2004 when, despite earning over $2-million in prize money that year, he went winless in a season for the first time in his career. His form began a steady decline, compounded by his wife Heather’s illness. She suffered from breast cancer, and passed away in 2006. It was a devastating blow for Clarke.
It’s a measure of the man and his popularity that he still teed it up in the 2006 Ryder Cup and played a major role in Europe’s victory at the K Club.
In 2008, he ended his win drought with an emotional victory in the BMW Asian Open – his first win in almost five years.
He set himself two goals of making it back into the top 50 on the world rankings, and qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team. It is in the Ryder Cup that Clarke has distinguished himself, making it onto five European teams and being on the winning side four times.
His desire to get back there was not matched by his form. Yet in 2010 he was named as a non-playing assistant captain to Colin Montgomerie.
“It was a good experience, but also a little frustrating. I felt as if I wanted to play,” he said of the experience in Wales.
But as hard as Clarke was working to return to form, he never expected what unfolded in a week in July 2011.
At the age of 42, Clarke claimed one of the most emotional and popular victories in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s. It was his first Major triumph. At the start of 2011, he had said at a tournament in South Africa that, “I want to play well in the Majors and compete there again”. Little did he know that this would finally be his year.
Clarke’s popularity with the man on the street was never more perfectly illustrated than when he arrived at his press conference the day after his Open triumph, and announced that he’d only stopped drinking and celebrating about half an hour before. He’s a man who loves his Guinness as much as his cigars, and he will bring that same warmth to a Sun City crowd that has always loved him whenever he competes on South African fairways.
Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that he was a useful openside flanker in his days as a rugby player. Or that he once worked a normal day job like most, in a nightclub in Dublin. “I was working there for three weeks. In the third week we got a bomb scare. Everybody was evacuated and the place was blown to bits 30 minutes later, so that was the end of that job.”
But more likely, it has something to do with a man who has a very clear perspective on where golf fits in his life. “Bad times in golf are more frequent than the good times. There’ve been times where I’ve been completely and utterly fed up with the game. But friends and family say, get out there and practise and keep going, keep going, keep going.”
Through triumph, turmoil and heartache both on and off the golf course, that’s exactly what Clarke has done.
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