Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Irish Open Player Profiles: Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke might not be Portrush born and bred but the reigning Open champion lives and breathes the place like a native son.

He’d love to see the wind blow when some of the best golfing talent in the world turns up for the most eagerly awaited Irish Open in years.

But his biggest priority is not the return of the event to the famous Dunluce links at Royal Portrush for the first time since 1947 or the feint possibility that the Open Championship could one day return to the north Antrim coast.

It’s the survival of the Irish Open that counts and an Ulster staging is just what the event needs to take it off life support and give it new momentum.

It’s all about putting on a show and Clarke is prepared to do his bit and add to the party atmosphere for the estimated 100,000 plus fans who are predicted to stream onto the course.

“Weather will dictate what the scores are going to be,” Clarke said. “If you have good weather and 20 under wins, I think that would be fine.

“We are making our living out of it but we are also in the entertainment industry. People want to come and see us making birdies and eagles and that’s fine by me.

“Events where you have four and five under par winning don’t appeal to me. If it is 20 under great. If it blows 20 miles an hour and 10 under wins that’s fine too.”

Despite that Clarke knows that Royal Portrush will pose a formidable challenge for the field if the wind gets up.

“You’ve got some links courses where the prevailing wind gives you an easy nine and a tough nine. But you’ve got different angles here and holes don’t play consistently.

“People are going to have options so there will be lots of birdies and lots of bogeys as well.”

Forced to skip the US Open in San Francisco because of a lingering groin injury he picked up the week before the Masters, Clarke is determined to be fighting fit for Portrush and the Open Championship a few weeks later.

“I really haven’t had any rest for nine months on or off the course. My schedule has been crazy,” he said of his struggle to find form since winning the Claret Jug.

“It has been crazy good but a little time off where I don’t have to travel will do me a bit of good.

“People have been very kind, it has been wonderful to receive the reception that I have had, but I don’t take playing poorly very well.

“I am incredibly frustrated. I’ve had an unbelievable time off the golf course and a very disappointing time on it.”

Joking about his determination to play at Portrush, he said: “I’d probably play on a zimmer frame if I had to. But hopefully I will be fine. I’ll do everything I can to be fit and ready for playing here.”

Portrush and family are the centre of Clarke's universe now. The locals have accepted the Dungannon native as one of their own since he first played the world famous Dunluce Links as an 11 year old, going on to win the North of Ireland title there in 1990.

He doesn't get mobbed, drives “one minute” to the course every day he's home and loves every second of his new lease of life following his recent marriage to former beauty queen Alison Campbell.

He said: “This is a holiday area, especially in the summer months. I have to do a photo here or there but I couldn't think of a nicer place to live. Very normal, ordinary people here.”

He does not believe he will be under pressure to pull off a victory but that doesn’t mean that he won’t have an advantage over the opposition.

“I am sure come Sunday you’ll see two or three Irish players up there, I have no doubt.” he said.

“With this weather the course is going to play firm and fast and it will bring a little more local knowledge into it.

“There will be a little bit of extra expectation but how you perform will be decided by how you deal with it.”

Factfile

Name: Darren Clarke

Age: 43

From: Dungannon, Co.Tyrone

Turned pro: 1990

European Titles: 14

PGA titles: 3

Majors: 1 The Open 2011

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