Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Darren Clarke deserved Royal reception

Darren Clarke acknowledges the fans on the final day of the Irish Open at Portrush

The applause was long and loud as Darren Clarke approached the 18th green. It was a reception fit for a King.

Appropriate really because that's how Darren is seen around these parts.

The Open champion smiled and waved to the fans clapping and cheering, not just for the entertainment and joy that he has provided on the fairways and greens this week and down the years, but for what he has given off the course too.

Clarke isn't just a great golfer, he's also an outstanding ambassador for Northern Ireland.

The public get that and love him for it.

Clarke has been modest about the part he played in bringing the Irish Open to what has become his home club, Royal Portrush. When asked about his contribution to the tournament coming north of the border for the first time since 1953, he said: “I tried to help as best I could.

“I haven't done an awful lot. It's the members of Royal Portrush, the European Tour and all of the volunteers that have done the hard work.

“It's been such a long time since it's been up here I just tried to help in whatever little way I could.”

When asked about his attendance at meetings to discuss the staging of the event, Clarke responded by saying that he had been to a few.

Not according to George O'Grady, Chief Executive of the European Tour, who went out of his way at the trophy presentation to Jamie Donaldson to thank Darren for his efforts in helping to make this year's Irish Open such a mammoth success.

O'Grady revealed that Clarke was at just about all the discussions providing invaluable expertise and encouragement.

The man is a champion for Northern Ireland in every sense.

And he like everyone else involved with the Irish Open can reflect in days, months and years to come at how all those who came to the course, be it to watch, to play or work in a voluntary capacity, savoured one of the great highlights of their sporting life.

Of course Darren would have loved to have been a contender in his home event, just like fellow major winners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, but while all threatened to challenge at the top of the leaderboard at different times during four fabulous days of golf, they never managed it.

This tournament was a comeback from injury for Clarke.

A few weeks prior to teeing off on Thursday he said that he'd take to the course with a zimmer frame if he had to in order to compete.

Thankfully he didn't need any walking aids, scoring 71, 69 and 73 in his opening three rounds before finishing with a 71 yesterday to leave him at four under par and in joint 39th place.

It may not have been spectacular from the 43-year-old from Dungannon, but it was a solid return ahead of his defence of The Open Championship at Lytham later this month.

Clarke said: “It was a very special occasion for the Irish Open to come to Royal Portrush and I'm just pleased that it proved to be such a hugely successful event.

“It's been absolutely brilliant. Obviously I would have liked to have scored a little bit better than I have done but overall I think the event has been enjoyed not just by the professionals but by the spectators and everyone involved.

“It's certainly been a tournament that we would all love to come back and play again.”

On his own game, Clarke's relatively happy about it just a few weeks ahead of what promises to be another special occasion, when he rocks up at Lytham as the man hoping to keep the Claret Jug he won in such inspirational style 12 months ago at Sandwich.

“It's been one of those weeks where I've hit too many sloppy shots and paid the penalty for it, but overall I'm pleased where my game is at,” he added.

Clarke will be a massive outsider for The Open, but then wasn't that the case last year too?