Clarke’s win the ‘most remarkable’ of all
There must be something in the northern water for this Major winning business has become something of a habit – and Darren Clarke’s triumph at Sandwich proved age is no barrier.
As the dust settles on yet another Major champion from these shores, what is to be made of Ireland, this new golfing mecca, one that’s punching way above its weight.
Pádraig Harrington got the ball rollingwith his three Major titles in quick succession in 2007 and 2008 – two of which were back-to-back Opens. Now in the space of four short years Ireland boasts a haul of six Majors and four different Major champions.
It’s hard to get the grey matter around this one. For so long the tired old line trotted out every time was: “Fred Daly, Ireland’s only Major champion, way back in the 1947 Open…”
Not anymore. Now we have a fourball which is the envy of world golf and it’s a varied grouping too.
The meticulous Harrington, renowned for his tinkering and in depth analysis of all things golf, may not be at the peak of his powers, but he’ll go down as one of the greats, not only because he is a multiple Major winner and trail-blazer for European golf in his time, but for what he gives back to the game. There is no better ambassador for golf.
As for the three ‘Nordies’ they are all cut from a similar cloth in that they know how to enjoy themselves and from the day and hour they broke onto the scene were picked as wonderful “natural talents” who honed much of their skills on the links terrain of either Royal Portrush or Royal County Down, not to mention their own home clubs.
We now have a 20 something, a 30 something and a 40 something collecting Majors in the space of 13 months. All that’s needed now to enhance the set is for someone like Des Smyth to win this week’s Senior British Open (for the over 50s) at Surrey’s Walton Heath.
For so long Clarke played the mentor role to his prodigy McIlroy. He threw the arm around the now 22-year-old with the elder statesman imparting his vast knowledge of over 20 years competing on tour. Although Dungannon is home, Clarke’s affinity to Royal Portrush is now almost as tight as Graeme McDowell’s.
If ever there was a time to pencil in Royal Portrush for The Open, it is now. The R&A’s Peter Dawson said they will look into the possibility of staging the Open on these shores with logistical constraints and infrastructure seemingly the biggest stumbling blocks.
In any case it won’t happen in the next three years as Lytham, Muirfield and Hoylake are next in line on the Open rota system, which means 2015 is the earliest possible date. The ideal stepping stone might be the staging of an Irish Open in the meantime.
Clarke has played the father-figure to these back-to-back US Open champions. And while they took the limelight he responded to their success with grace, though inside you sense he was all the time thinking, ‘I have as much game as anyone to win one these things’.
Clarke has long been a leading figure/character on tour – we need only mention his WGC win in 2000 when he stared down Tiger or the emotionally charged Ryder Cup performance at the K-Club in 2006 – but there was always something missing from his CV. Without a Major he was a good player, not a great player. That now changes.
And there’s the rub. For so long Clarke was the senior player offering advice to his compatriots, the two Macs, before they made their stunning Major breakthroughs. It has come full circle, for the Major wins of McDowell and McIlroy have undoubtedly inspired Clarke to what has become his greatest achievement on a golf course.
It doesn’t matter what happens from here on for the over-sized one. He could get a taste for this and bag another one or two in quick succession, or this one could serve as the icing on the cake of a glittering career which has endured the highs and the lows.
There’s no doubt the horrid weather and draw played into Clarke’s hands at Sandwich but he proved beyond doubt he is one of the best wind players – and therefore shot-makers – in the game.
He deserved the win, he played the golf.
Of interest was his on-course demeanour. He appeared jovial, chatty and composed throughout. The ticker may have been going 90-to-the-dozen inside but the thin veneer helped disguise the pressure he must have been feeling, especially coming down the stretch. But he carried it off and has proved to be a popular winner.
Clarke has been known to be sulky in the past when things don’t go his way. Some say it’s down to his pursuit of perfection as one of the purest strikers of a ball in the game. There was no sign of such petulance at Sandwich, as his body language and demeanour matched his exemplary game.
His manager and close friend, Chubby Chandler, was right when he said Clarke plays his best golf when he’s heavier. So much for his Weight Watchers diet, which was due to start today (Monday), that’s put on hold as Guinness is the order of the day.
These two larger than life characters and the ISM (International Sports Management) entourage will push the boat out in fine style. When the newly-crowned Open champion is due to arrive back in Portrush tomorrow (Tuesday) it would be no surprise if he is feeling the effects of a late night celebration or three. This approach alone makes Clarke come across as an ordinary bloke, not necessarily the finely-tuned athlete, and helps endear him to so many.
Six Irish Majors in four years; these are extraordinary times for Irish golf and the most recent Major success is perhaps the most remarkable of them all.