Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Me broke? That's rich, says Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke
US Open Champions Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell with Open Championship winner Darren Clarke pictured in Portrush
British Open Championship winner Darren Clarke returns to his adopted hometown club, Royal Portrush

Irony is asking a guy who has just stepped out of his shiny, black Ferrari if he'd been feeling the pinch recently.

Darren Clarke's agent, Chubby Chandler, has been quoted as saying his Open victory at Sandwich solved "a big cash flow problem" for the Ulsterman.

As Clarke's £175,000 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, resplendent with its personalised '60 DC' number plate, growled into the car park at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, it was clear the term 'cash-strapped' is relative.

Revealing he'd had the super car for 18 months, Clarke described it as "comfortable", a term which one newspaper report last weekend suggested did not apply to his finances before he hit the jackpot at St Georges.

In it Chandler said Clarke had been hit hard by the worldwide recession and that he lost "an awful lot of money" on the private jet he bought with Lee Westwood at the top of the market in early 2006 and offloaded last year.

The agent also suggested that since moving back to Portrush with his two sons last autumn, Clarke had been unable to sell his former £4.85m hole in the Surrey stockbroker belt, alleging: "that created big problems as well".

Yet, when asked yesterday if he'd been cash-strapped before winning at St Georges, Clarke said bluntly: "Not particularly. No."

Clarke had not been quoted in the article and politely declined to make any further, comment, saying: "I prefer to keep my mouth shut on those sort of things."

Frankly, it's all academic after his heroics at Sandwich.

Of inestimable value is the cargo Clarke carried with him to Killarney in a packing case on the passenger seat of his Ferrari - the Claret Jug, a gleaming symbol not only of a renaissance for the 42-year-old but also The Irish Open itself.

Killarney general manager Maurice O'Meara reports "the phones were hopping" after Rory McIlroy's landslide at Congressional but Irish Open ticket sales went through the roof last Monday in the wake of Clarke's stunning success at Royal St Georges.

So much so, European Tour officials expect up to 100,000 people to pass through the gates this week, exceeding by far the 82,000 who turned up last year - Killarney can accommodate with comfort up to 30,000 spectators any given day, according to O'Meara.

Last year's strong show of support by the public for their national championship encouraged the Tour and Failte Ireland to press ahead with the event in 2011 despite the absence of a title-sponsor following the departure of '3'.

If the people of Ireland saved the event, the astonishing Major-winning feats of the island's top professionals, Clarke McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington will draw crowds big enough to establish the Irish Open as, arguably, the greatest sporting event on the island this summer.

And with prospective sponsors on site this week, Tour Sales and Marketing executive James Finnegan insisted: "We are in the shop window. There are people coming to look at this golf tournament and we are going to make sure they see a top class event."

Interestingly, Clarke was the first touring professional to arrive yesterday. Was this a signal of intent?

"No," he replied. "I've been in bed more or less for the last couple of days with a head cold and I was wide awake early this morning and hit the road as I wanted to miss the traffic on the M50 around Dublin."

The cold is an almost inevitable consequence of a week's celebrations which Clarke described as "a whirlwind for me in every way, doing this, that and the other all over the place. It's been fantastic but very tiring."

After dosing himself with 'Night Nurse' and 'Day Nurse' for several days, Clarke insists he'll be fit and ready to go at the Irish Open.

"I couldn't think of any better event to come back and play a week after winning The Open," he says. "It's brilliant they have sold so many tickets and are getting people to support our national open. I hope they get the big crowds coming again and we get the good weather."

He's not played much since Sandwich. "I did a company thing for Sky on Thursday and I played with three mates from home (Luis Figo, The Bear and Rock Star) in Bushfoot on Friday," Clarke said. "Then I'd 13 holes with (sons) Tyrone and Conor yesterday morning at Royal Portrush - I played shocking but I played."

Last winter, former Irish Open sponsors '3' declined to take up the option of a third year, switching their allegiance to the Irish soccer team instead.

Yet with two Irishmen winning the US and British Opens this summer, Tour official Finnegan anticipates a return to the event's "halcyon days" this week, adding: "I think some people who were brave enough or bold enough to walk away from us might be kicking themselves."

Saying they made up for the absence of a title-sponsor's marketing budget with ingenuity, Killarney Golf Club's general manager O'Meara explained: "We simply learned from last year and have done it a little bit smarter this time around."

Among the changes at Killarney is a new practice range, funded by the club's neighbour, Liebherr engineering, and just 30 seconds by buggy from the five-star Hotel Europe. Meanwhile, a new first tee has been built, overlooked by a 200-seat grandstand, stretching the Killeen Course by 27 yards to 7,161 yards.

Though pools which gathered on the 18th fairway during heavy rainfall the weekend before last have disappeared, the course is yielding and will play longer than last year, with a heavier growth of rough likely to penalise errant shots.

All-in-all, Killarney should offer a challenge fit for Ireland's Major champions.

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