Full Flow Clarke
Ten months ago the new Open Champion told us he would win again – but who knew it would be the game's greatest prize? Alex Jenkins reports
In the lead up to last year's UBS Hong Kong Open, HK Golfer Events – the events arm of this magazine – organized a golf day for one of our distinguished advertisers – Audemars Piguet, the globally-renowned watch brand. It proved to be a rather insightful occasion. Not only did we have AP ambassador Rory McIlroy, soon-to-be US Open champion, gracing the fairways with our lucky guests, but the evening festivities promised to be fabulous, with Graeme McDowell (the reigning US Open champion before Rory nabbed his thunder), Darren Clarke and India's Shiv Kapur all scheduled to speak at the gala dinner. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – things didn't quite go to plan.
The fact was that both GMac and Kapur were busily finishing off their rain-delayed final rounds at the Singapore Open, which meant they weren't going to be able to join us here in Hong Kong. That's a shame, we thought, but at least we still have Clarke, who we were sure was going to entertain us with stories of his topsy-turvy career. That's the point about Big Darren: he's one of those top-class golfers who might not have fulfilled his true potential, but at least he'll give us plenty of memorable yarns that he's picked up along the way.
How wrong we were.
Yes, Clarke, who was swathed in a rather swish grey-coloured suit and a mighty AP watch for the evening, gave us a sprinkling of what life on tour was all about. He made a few quips about his fellow competitors – particularly Colin Montgomerie, but who doesn't do that? – and he beamed in the glory of Europe's then recent Ryder Cup win (which he vice-captained). But the really interesting parts – parts which might explain why no-one should be that surprised by his Open Championship win –focused on what he had to say about himself.
As Clarke took to the stage, Julian Tutt, the renowned television commentator and emcee for the evening, was quick to talk about the Clarke that we, as golf fans, knew about.
"Now, Darren," Tutt quizzed, "would it be fair to say that you haven't won as many times as your talent deserves?"
Clarke, who had by this time enjoyed, as his want, a number of glasses of the fine reds that were on offer, replied: "Oh, Jules, I don't believe you know how many times I've actually won."
Tutt looked decidedly unsure, and guessed, in that magnificent Etonian accent of his, 10. "I've had 20 professional wins, but you're right, I should have won more," Clarke replied matter-of-factly.
For the next few minutes, Clarke spoke exclusively about his career.
"A journalist once said that I would have done much better if I hadn't stopped off for a pint of Guinness along the way – and that's a pretty good synopsis," admitted Clarke, to cheers from the guests. "You've got to have a good mix of fun and hard work at this game – but perhaps I've enjoyed myself a bit too much."
There was no guessing by this point that Clarke, who has been known to enjoy a wee snifter or two, was in full flow.
"Perfection is the worst affliction in professional golf, and I've been known to get a little bit angry on myself on occasion" continued Clarke, with a laugh. "I have suffered a bit with that throughout my career"
Clarke then touched upon his wife, Heather, who as most will know passed away with cancer six years ago when the Ulsterman was in the prime of his golfing life.
"I don't want to make excuses, but at the time I was going in the right direction, I was just starting to get going," said the man who at the time had just landed his second WGC event. "That all changed when Heather passed."
Following Heather's death, Clarke, who has two young sons, changed his priorities.
"The boys came first, no question," he said. "Golf took a back seat, I had two young sons, I had to look after them."
Despite this, Clarke would later excel at the 2006 Ryder Cup and followed that up with two wins in 2008. It had been lean pickings since, however.
"But I haven't given up hope. I am dedicated to this game and I'm working very hard, despite what some might say," said Clarke, who was smiling throughout. "I definitely think I can win again."
And so right he was.
Written by Alex Jenkins
Photography by Daniel Wong
Click here to see the published article.
It has taken over two decades for the US Open to return to the East Course at Merion, one of the most historic clubs in America. But as Paul Prendergast explains, the wait will be more than worth it.
Dale Concannon recounts the remarkable history of Ben Hogan's 1950 US Open win, arguably the most courageous comeback the game has ever seen.
We're sure to see plenty of memorable shots hit at Merion this month, but will any go down in golfing lore? Charlie Schroeder highlights some of the most famous moments in US Open history – and reveals the clubs that were used to make them happen
Colin Montgomerie, heroic Ryder Cup player, eight-time European Order of Merit champion and recent Hall of Fame inductee, famously never won a major – although he did come agonisingly close on four occasions at the US Open
Alex Jenkins sits down with world number eight Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, for an exclusive interview at the recent Ballantine's Championship in Korea
In this new column covering the European Tour, internationally-recognised golf commentator Julian Tutt talks us through his mini-Asian swing through Korea and China
Reigning Hong Kong Open champion Miguel Angel Jiménez is back in action on the European Tour after recovering from breaking his leg in a skiing accident in December, although the popular Spaniard missed the cut at the Open de Espana, his comeback event.
From customizable balls to adjustable drivers and funky grips, Charlie Schroeder picks 10 of his favourite new releases
Lewine Mair talks to two-time Women's British Open champion Jiyai Shin about the different approaches players from Asia and their counterparts in Europe and the US take to the game
The play of Guan Tian-lang, the Chinese 14-year-old amateur, at The Masters was truly sensational, but here's hoping he follows the advice of his mentors and focuses on his long term goals