Seapoint Golf Club at 7.40am last Tuesday and there’s a guy sitting in a car waiting for his playing partners to turn up, just like any early-morning golfer.
The difference is that the guy is Darren Clarke, Ryder Cup star and winner of 19 professional tournaments.
His car is not your average family saloon. The famous prancing horse badge says ‘Ferrari’ and the reg is a bit special too — 60 DC.
‘DC’ is obvious as his initials and the ‘60’ refers to his lowest competitive career rounds — nine-under-par 60 in the 1992 Monte Carlo Open, and a 12- under-par 60 in the 1999 Smurfit European Open.
Clarke had overnighted in Drogheda prior to the day’s commitment at Seapoint.
As an ambassador for Setanta Sports, which has the rights to PGA Tour golf among other top sporting attractions, he was enlisted to play golf with six media folk, nine holes with each threeball.
The big man from Dungannon was available due to his unfortunate failure to qualify for the Masters at Augusta, despite winning the BMW Asian Open and the KLM Open on the European Tour last year.
The first question thing most would want to know is: “What’s he like as a bloke?”
On this occasion, given the chance to play alongside him and spend time in his company with the pressure off all of us, he showed us the natural and down-to-earth Darren Clarke.
Friendly, open, joking and informative, he was the perfect host and was not averse to letting a few blokey expletives out as we all do in male golfing company.
In other words, one of us — apart from the multi-million quid in earnings, a couple of Ferraris and a private jet he shares with Lee Westwood.
There is also the aspect of the trauma he suffered when losing wife, Heather, to cancer in 2006.
The cars and plane are irrelevant compared with Heather’s death, but Clarke, though appreciative of the public support for himself and sons Tyrone and Conor, is getting on with life.
“The trauma? The worst of it’s over and done with,” he said.
“I don’t want to keep going back to it, but we’re getting on with our lives and the boys are doing better.
“Regarding my golf, I’ve got no real excuses not to be going back up the rankings.”
So what was it like for him not playing at Augusta, especially as his protégé and ISM stablemate Rory McIlroy was out there at just 19?
“I was home at my sister’s house in Bushmills but we watched a lot of it down in the Bayview Hotel down in Port Ballantrae, drinking some stout, watching the golf,” he said.
“Yeah, it was tough. I had to do it last year as well. I had to watch a few tournaments on TV last year, and obviously I was disappointed that I wasn’t there playing,” he said.
Like millions of TV watchers worldwide, Clarke felt a tingle of shock at Rory McIlroy sweeping the sand in that controversial ‘bunker moment’ when his ball was still in the hazard.
“Watching it, I thought to myself ‘there could be a bit of trouble here’,” he said.
“He was obviously annoyed with himself and took a bit of a swipe at the sand. My first reaction was to phone Chubby (Chandler, manager of Clarke and McIlroy) and tell him to make sure Rory didn’t sign his card until he had sorted that out.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a message to Chubby in time because no phones are allowed in Augusta.
“But the Augusta people, as they do, met up and talked it all through, and they were happy that he didn’t break any rules.”
He added: “I think it was fortunate for Rory. It was great that he was there for another two rounds, but it should be a lesson for him and I don’t think you’ll see him doing it again.”
The Masters’ Green Jacket looked a perfect fit for Kenny Perry after 17 holes, but everything turned on the 18th.
“Watching it, you had to feel for Kenny Perry,” said Clarke.
“He was going so well for so long, and just fell at the last hurdle.
“The three in the play-off are really good guys.
“It was hard to pull for one over the other but Angel (Cabrera) has won the US open before and I think that really stood him in good stead.
His own game is “okay” in Clarke’s words, but he says he’s inconsistent and is wasting too many shots in tournaments.
At Seapoint, Clarke didn’t waste too many shots.