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Irish Open 2015: Northern Ireland's Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke player profile

By Peter Hutcheon

He would not be Darren Clarke if he did not talk up his chances of playing his way onto his own Ryder Cup team.

Alas his days as a leading European player are pretty much behind him and such thoughts should be banished from his mind as he prepares for the other challenges next year’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine present to him as captain.

Victory there may be regarded as the pinnacle of his career by some, though one suspects he personally will always treasure his Open Championship victory at Royal St George’s more highly than anything he did in the colours of Europe.

There will always be a tinge of regret at not winning an Irish Open. He talks often of one of his proudest moments being his victory at the K Club in Kildare in 2001. That, though, was a European Open – a subtle but important difference.

He could always put that right at Royal County Down next week but given his form over the last couple of years, that would be quite a leap of faith.

What a victory it would be, though, and perhaps a vindication of the decision he made back in 2005 at Carton House when he, on principle, opted not to take advantage of a good lie in heavy rough afforded by an over enthusiastic fan and ended up losing out on the coveted title to Thomas Bjorn.

It has been decisions like those which have made Clarke immensely popular with both players and fans alike over the years. That, and his stellar playing record in the Ryder Cup, are what have propelled him to the captaincy.

He remains a straight talker never afraid to air his opinion which will undoubtedly be interesting to watch in the heat of a Ryder Cup battle next year.

There is also his genuine sense of hospitality and generosity, traits seen at their best as he acted as the unofficial host of the 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush, which was by any stretch of the imagination, a supreme triumph for all concerned.

Moving back to settle with his family in Northern Ireland has suited him. And he has become a perfect ambassador for the country as well as the game around the world.

Paul McGinley has set the bar extremely high for the standards expected of Ryder Cup captains and it would be difficult for anyone to live up to the meticulous preparations he put in place last year.

And it is unfortunate that relations between the two men are not what they once were. Clarke will no doubt speak to McGinley to get his thoughts on captaincy though ultimately he will do it his way.

Clarke revelled in his role as the unofficial tournament host when the Irish Open came to Royal Portrush three years ago.

He will be able to relax a little more as McIlroy takes on that role at Royal County Down and is certainly looking forward to the challenge.

“Any time we get back on a links is very special. Ireland has some of the very best links courses in the world, and Royal County Down is up at the very top of that list,” he says.

“I haven’t played at County Down for a good many years as I don’t have to travel very far from my home to play a world class links at Royal Portrush.

“But it is up there with the best courses anywhere in the world and it is a demanding course to play.

“A lot of links courses give you the option to hit the ball very low whereas at Royal County Down you have to hit it up in the air, so it is demanding off the tee and the second shot as well.”

Naturally more and more of Clarke’s time is going to be taken up with his Ryder Cup duties over the coming season and a half, leaving less time for him to concentrate on his playing career.

He does have a lucrative future ahead of him in just a couple of years on the Senior Tour circuit.

But he will fancy one last hurrah in the European Tour where he has excelled for over 20 years.

Imagine if he won the Irish Open on Sunday what a popular victory that would be.

 

Facts

Age: 46

Location: Grew up in Dungannon, but now lives in Portrush

Biggest achievements: The Open winner 2011,

Best finish at an Irish Open: Third in 2006

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