Perfectionist Clarke still has plenty more left in the tank
Darren Clarke’s book charts his life’s highs and lows, with lots of golf in between, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
“People have lots of different opinions of me,” says Darren Clarke. “Arrogant t*** is one. A fella you’d like to have a pint with is another. Thankfully there are more of the latter than the former. But hopefully this is a little bit of an insight into why I’ve turned out the way I’ve turned out.”
We’re talking about his autobiography, An Open Book. Or rather, we’re talking about the thinking behind his autobiography. As somebody who’s won close to €20 million on the European Tour alone in his career, he obviously didn’t do it for the money. So why?
“Well, when I did the last book Heroes All after the Ryder Cup, it was a two-book deal. So the publishers came to me after winning the Open and said it would be a good time to do another one. I could have waited but I decided to carry on and do it. I’ve had so many people ask how I stayed calm and collected during the Open and I thought I may as well stick it down in a book.”
If that doesn’t sound like the most blue-sky-thinking sales pitch in the world, at least nobody can accuse him of spinning a line. Some men write books, others have books thrust upon them. Clarke has spent the guts of 25 years in the public eye and he knows who he is and who he’s supposed to be. “I’m the guy who won the Open and whose wife died of breast cancer,” he says at one point.
Just over half the book is taken up writing about those two events, and what stands out most about them is the detail in which they’re covered. His conversations with Dr Bob Rotella through the week of his British Open victory last July are fascinating and eye-opening to anyone who’s ever picked up a club.
The account of Heather Clarke’s death at just 39 is grim, horrible and deeply moving. Outside of them, however, Clarke flits from subject to subject and year to year without a lot of pause for thought or treatment. Deliberately so, he says.
“If the detail is a bit sketchy in some parts of the book it’s because I didn’t want a book that was 500 pages long. I didn’t want that. It’s deliberately sketchy because who wants to read a book that thick? Yes, it’s my autobiography but it’s more like a synopsis of my autobiography. I have read some other autobiographies and you just drag your heels through them. I wanted something that was an easy read.”
For the most part, that’s what he got; the obvious exception being Heather’s illness and premature death, which he describes in fairly harrowing detail. What comes across most pointedly is just how bewildering an experience it was for a man who had otherwise enjoyed a life of keeping the world where he could see it.
“One of the huge benefits of what I’ve done as a professional golfer and being reasonably successful at it is that I’ve always had the opportunity to dictate what I want to do. I’m in control. But on this, we tried everything. We went everywhere.
“I don’t want that to sound crass but we had the opportunities to go to the best hospitals in the world and get the best treatment and we did everything and tried every route. But nothing could be done. I was powerless and I was watching my wife die in front of my eyes.
“I knew I could deal with it but the harder thing was thinking about the kids. Telling the boys that their mother was about to die is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. They were eight and five at the time. Nothing I’ve ever done has been harder. The Ryder Cup, the Open, that was all a piece of piss compared to that. There couldn’t be anything worse than that. To the day I die, there’ll never be anything like it. There can’t be anything more difficult than that. There just can’t.”