Ugly shank comes back to haunt birthday boy

 

Darren Clarke hit the self-destruct button once again but it did little to dampen his sense of humour, reports Philip Reid

All week Darren Clarke hit some beautiful golf shots; yet, on his 36th birthday on Saturday, his quest for the US PGA at Whistling Straits effectively finished with one of the ugliest golf shots in the book. On the par-three 17th, a hole known as Pinched Nerve, Clarke hit a horrible shank. "I've no idea where it came from, it was completely out of the blue," he later remarked.

Of course, it happens to everyone who plays golf at some stage. Even to the very best. Once upon a time, when Jack Nicklaus, a winner of a record 18 majors throughout his career, was asked by a reporter about a shank he had played during his round, he feigned ignorance of the unmentionable and swiftly moved on to other things.

In fairness to Clarke, who had been the victim of a similar shot during the Scottish Open last month and famously also hit a shank on the second hole of the British Open at Royal Troon in 1997, he took his latest misfortune with immense grace and good cheer.

"I was hitting a four-iron and hit as good a shank as you can see, it was one to be proud of," he quipped. "I was hitting great shots and that was just one that came out of the blue."

These days, Clarke has become quite the comedian. Ask him about his weight loss, and he'll tell of how he's "lost two bags of sugar off my belly".

Normally, though, golfers run away from the mere mention of a shank as quickly as an Olympic sprinter after the start gun has sounded. Not Clarke, who isn't afraid to address the issue head on.

Indeed, Clarke's shank in the third round typified how it can materialise from nowhere. On the previous hole, the par-five 16th, he had hammered a three-wood approach 265 yards on the way to claiming a birdie and, then, came his latest shank on the 223-yard 17th.

It appeared that he failed to complete his backswing and, in getting ahead of himself on the downswing, inadvertently hooded the club face and hit his ball off the hosel of the club.

Clarke found himself some 70 yards offline in the sand, from where he flopped a sand wedge onto the green and two putted for a bogey.

If there was a time when in such circumstances a red mist would have descended on his head, these days there are no such mood swings and, probably, his demeanour was also helped by the fact that gallery started to sing "Happy Birthday" to him as he pondered his predicament.

Afterwards, he even quipped of his weight loss and fitness regime that has seen him lose up to three stones in the past year. "I had got to the stage where I was fed up. I was just getting physically tired, puffing up and down the hills. Basically, I just wanted to try and improve my game, I wasn't able to compete," recalled Clarke of his decision to undergo a physical transformation after leading last year's US Masters after the first round before running out of steam and eventually finishing in 28th place.

He added: "My new fitness certainly made it easier getting up and down those hills at the 17th."

If he was putting a brave face on his latest shank, anyone who witnessed the incident could only feel for him . . . it's not the sort of thing you'd wish on your worst enemy.