Victory at last for Darren Clarke and his hometown club
Northern Ireland golfer Darren Clarke yesterday fulfilled a lifetime ambition by winning the 140th Open Championship at Royal St George's at Sandwich in Kent.
His years of efforts to win a major were finally achieved as he successfully fended off American challenges to build on his overnight lead and end with a three-shot victory.
Playing with self-assurance on a blustery and sometimes rainy day, the 42-year-old veteran finished several shots ahead of the US golfers Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Although he has long been a highly successful international player, success in a major had so far eluded him.
His victory extended the remarkable achievements of Northern Ireland golfers, who have scored three major victories in just over a year, Graham McDowell winning last year's US Open and Rory McIlroy repeating the feat a few weeks ago. Already Northern Ireland is being described – tongue-in-cheek – as a "golf superpower".
The result was received ecstatically in Dungannon golf club in Tyrone, where Clarke played as a boy. Although his family may have moved away some time ago, the golfer is still viewed as a local hero and his parents are regarded as the finest of folk. When he won yesterday the roar of triumph was deafening in the members' room, which is festooned with photographs of the golfer and where four of his jackets are displayed on the walls.
At the start of the afternoon, there was perhaps a certain anxiety, but it quickly faded as it became clear he was not about to let slip his overnight lead. Assured by his self-confidence, the men in the lounge relaxed and savoured their pints and the prospect of success.
When American competitors played shots the guys shouted "Bunker, bunker", in the hope they would land in the sand. But it was all good-natured: "Aren't we bad-hearted gets," chuckled one member.
Clarke's shots drew murmurs of appreciation, but as the day wore on the volume grew louder as victory neared. When it eventually came, their cheers and yells drowned out individual voices, merging into a collective shout of joy. Some fists were flung in the air while others banged tables as choruses of "Olé, olé, olé" broke out.
A prominent plaque records that Clarke opened the modern clubhouse in June 2000. His father, Godfrey, was head greenkeeper in Dungannon, while his mother, Hetty, was a skilled player. "They are held in the highest esteem," said the club captain, Joe Cavlin. "Great people, great people."
Member Paul Statham, a council worker, agreed: "They're fabulous people, absolutely fabulous." He described the club: "We're very much informal, and no matter who you are you'll always get a welcome here. Take a look around you – it doesn't matter if you're Catholic, Protestant, Hindu or Jew here, we're all friends. The picture is live and let live – we're all together, it doesn't make a difference."