Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Clarke still battling his rollercoaster of emotions

Darren Clarke tees off in Cologne tomorrow hoping to turn around 'his season from hell'

Another city, another golf course, another week ... Darren Clarke takes the next step on the longest journey of his life at The Mercedes-Benz Championship in Cologne tomorrow.

It's almost a year since Clarke and, indeed, the rest of the country were high on emotion at The K Club. From his miraculous opening drive on Friday to sweet 16 on Sunday, the Ulsterman was the heart and soul of the Ryder Cup.

Yet it would be little more than a precious interlude. The greatest challenge lay ahead and now, nearly 12 months later, Clarke knows just how slow a healer time can be.

Last Friday in the Swiss Alps, Clarke endured another missed cut in what he describes as "the season from hell".

His current world ranking of 169th is an aberration for a two-time World Championship winner.

There have been flashes of hope. Clarke's performances at Loch Lomond in July and last month's USPGA showed the game is still there.

Difficult

And Clarke's own words in a phenomenal interview with Scotland on Sunday golf columnist John Huggan reveal that he's found the patience to prevail.

"It's been ridiculously difficult, as I'm sure anyone who's been in this position will attest," Clarke says of the past year.

"It's funny the way it gets you at times. The way memories pop up when I'm in places we'd been before.

"Sometimes it just hits me that I am where Heather had been or would be if she were still here. Time is really the only thing that's going to make it better.

"It's changed me. I'm a lot more patient than I've ever been, though I've still got a bit to go in that direction. I'm more tolerant too.

"Things that used to bother me don't now, especially when I'm with the boys. I can't afford to go home in a mood about my golf. I can't let them see any frustration in me, as that would be unfair.

"To say I've struggled is an understatement," he sighs.

"It's been tough on the ego to play as badly. It's been hard to pack up and go home on so many Friday nights.

"That's not why I play golf. I play to contend and win. So, while there's an obvious reason for my struggles, that hasn't made it any less painful.

"Last year I was swept along on a wave of emotion. First, when Heather was still there, then on the back of the Ryder Cup. After all that, the reality really hit me. But that's life and the way the cards have been dealt. I've lost Heather, but I still have my two boys.

"They have good days and bad. There are times when they just burst out crying and say they miss their mummy.

"I still have down times too. While the support I've had from everyone is brilliant, when the door shuts on my bedroom at night I'm there looking at the walls on my own.

"It's hard. Everything. There are so many things I miss, large and small.

"Even not being able to lift the phone and have a good moan," he reflected.

"I really miss the conversations late at night when I'm on the road. I even miss the arguments every husband and wife have.

"So many things make me miss her. I've a hard time not feeling sad when I think of all the times we were together as a family, doing all the things families do."

Last month's anniversary of his wife's passing was, he added, "all a bit much for me.

"We all went up to the grave together. There were a lot of flowers, including a lovely big bouquet from Padraig and Caroline Harrington. I'll never forget that gesture, it was just so nice of them to think of Heather.

"The kids and I talk about her all the time. It'd be wrong to exclude her name from conversation.

"In the car the other day Connor asked if I remembered when mummy was alive and we did this or that. That's the way they talk. sometimes I get a lump in my throat but I wouldn't have it any other way. I want them to remember their mummy.

Valuable

"I realise how lucky I've been to live the life I have," he acknowledges.

"If not for Heather's death, I'm not sure I'd have taken the time to do that.

"I know how lucky I am to have a talent that society has identified as valuable. And I know it more now than I ever did before Heather was diagnosed."

Inevitably, Clarke's career has been reshaped by his circumstances.

Unable this year to play the minimum 15 events required of a member of the US Tour, he now faces a three-year wait before he can apply for membership again.

Although he is still entitled to seven US sponsor's invites annually, on top of the Majors and World Championships, Clarke will be based in Europe for the most part for the rest of the season.

Those who know him best are certain that he will once again become a force in the world game. It's only a matter of time.

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