Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Darren Clarke our star of 2011

Sports star of the year award being accepted by Darren Clarke's fiancé Alison Campbell (centre) and presented by Mike Gilson (Belfast Telegraph), Caral Ni Chuilin MLA (Sports Minister), Brenda Beattie (Sales Manager, Linwoods) and Eamonn McCartan (CEO Sport NI). 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Sports star of the year award being accepted by Darren Clarke's fiancé Alison Campbell (centre) and presented by Mike Gilson (Belfast Telegraph), Caral Ni Chuilin MLA (Sports Minister), Brenda Beattie (Sales Manager, Linwoods) and Eamonn McCartan (CEO Sport NI). 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Brendan Rodgers being presented with his Manager of the year award by Peter Canavan. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Mike Gilson (Belfast Telegraph), Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, Eamonn McCartan (CEO Sport NI) and Jack Kyle. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Dominic Walsh, Chairman Sport NI, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, Aogan O'Fearghail (Ulster Council) and Paddy Doherty. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Phil Simmons (Ireland Cricket coach), Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and Kyle McCallan. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Jack Kyle, Betty Henderson and Jackie Fullerton. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Peter Canavan, Mike Gibson, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, Dominic Walsh (Sport NI), Steve Martin and David Jeffrey. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Carl Frampton and Pat Jennings. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Dominic Walsh (Sport NI), Andrew Trimble and Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Michael Gibson, left, being presented with his Hall of fame award by Dr Jack Kyle. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
David Jeffrey and Michael Gibson. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Alan Moneypenny, Jack Kyle and Rory Best. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
David Humphreys, Alan Moneypenny and Jack Kyle with current Ulster rugby squad members. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Eric Cunningham, Janet Gray and Paul Gray. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Johann Muller, Alison Campbell and Rory Best. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Todd Kelma (Belfast Giants), Janet Gray, Paul Gray and Nigel Carr. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Kenny Morris, Steven Martin, Alison Campbell and Jackie McCandless. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Sycerika McMahon being presented with her Young player of the year award by Eamonn McCartan, CEO of Sport NI. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Ian Sloan being presented his Local heroes award by Dr Stephen Martin and Jimmy Kirkwood. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Rory Best being presented with his Player of the year award by David Lawlor, marketing executive, Linwoods. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Sally Brown being presented with her Sports person with a disability award by John Spottiswoode, MD, Disability Needs Ltd. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Danny Murphy, left, being presented with his W J (Paddy) Patterson award by Ken Nixon, NI Sports Forum. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Mike Gibson, Peter Canavan and David Jeffrey. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Julie Hinds and Natalie Barr from Lurgan College girls hockey being presented with their Young team of the year award by Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin . 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Linfield manager David Jeffrey being presented with the Team of the year award by Michael O'Neill. Also pictured are Blues kit manager Gary Eccles, chairman Jim Kerr, players Michael Gault and Winston Murphy. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Michael Dunlop, left, being presented with his Special recognition award by fellow road racer Eugene Laverty. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Gillian Chambers recieves the George Best breakthrough award on behalf of her son Peter from Pat Jennings. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Leander Swimming Club member Sycerika McMahon and her mum Mary. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Matt McGovern , Leander Swimming Club member Sycerika McMahon and Ryan Seaton. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Sally Brown and her dad Richard. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Cathy McParlan, Miriam Morgan and Lorraine Trainor. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Leander Swimming Club member Sycerika McMahon. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Adam Stirling and Nicole Healey. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
David Lawlor, Brenda Beattie and Kieron Beattie. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
Sarah Craig, Caitlin De Jode and Kathryn McCann from Dalriada U16. 2011 Linwoods and Sport Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.

Darren Clarke has suffered heartache that no man would ever want to experience.

When his beautiful wife Heather, and mother to his two charming sons Tyrone and Conor, passed away in 2006 after losing her brave battle with cancer, it must have felt like the end of the world for Darren.

Many tears were shed as this much loved golfer tried to come to terms with his tragic loss.

He had to re-build his life and virtually start again.

All over the world, especially here in Northern Ireland, people will be overjoyed to hear that five-and-a-half-years on Darren feels “incredibly fortunate” to have found happiness again.

Content to be based in Portrush with his boys and close to family and friends, he's also found love with stunning fiancee Alison Campbell, formerly a Miss Northern Ireland.

And of course there’s still a warm glow from that blustery, wet day in July when his lifelong dream of winning The Open finally came true at the 20th attempt.

Clarke was magnificent all week at Royal St George's, playing through the wind and rain, to become the second Ulsterman after Fred Daly to win the tournament.

It was a magical effort from Clarke, often accused in the past of not seeing the big job through.

Well, he got it done at Sandwich, with plenty of smiles and laughs along the way, lapped up by his adoring fans.

Darren enjoys a drink and a smoke and good food. He's someone that the public can identify with and his Open success was one of the most popular in the history of his chosen sport.

From tee to green he excelled and when he needed to make the pressure putts, he delivered. Put simply, he produced world class golf to win the biggest event of them all.

In Northern Ireland we were proud to see Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy win back-to-back US Open titles, but there was even more depth of feeling when Darren won his major title, because he's been around a lot longer, he's gone close to it in the past and of course due to all that suffering he's gone through away from the course. No wonder then that he was a hugely popular winner of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year award for 2011 at last night's glittering ceremony in the Ramada Plaza Hotel.

Away in South Africa preparing for his first tournament of the year, Darren's prize was collected by his fiancee Alison.

Before travelling to play in the Volvo Golf Champions tournament, which begins on Thursday, Clarke spoke about his contented state of mind.

“I have been through a lot of things in my life, on and off the course, some of them good and some of them very bad,” he said.

“You learn about yourself through adversity and now Tyrone and Conor are both doing well, I've a wonderful fiancee in Alison and life couldn't be better for me living back at home.

“Sometimes you have to go through pain and come out the other side and I feel incredibly fortunate right now to be receiving awards like this one and to have the Claret Jug and be Open champion.”

On his latest prize, he stated: “I'm delighted to win the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year award. It's great to get any award, but when it comes from the people at home in Northern Ireland, that makes it even more special.

“It's been wonderful for me this past year. Having moved back home and living here permanently it's a wonderful place to be and bring up my kids and I'm really enjoying it.

“Wherever I am in Northern Ireland, so many people come up to me and say well done to me. It's great to hear.

“You don't really get that anywhere apart from at home, so to get voted the Sports Star of the Year from people here means an awful lot to me.”

After that Open victory, everyone wanted a piece of the big Dungannon man.

Over the Christmas and New Year period, when he was awarded the OBE, Darren enjoyed some quality family time and finally got the opportunity to reflect on what he achieved last summer.

He says: “It's sunk in a little more now. Obviously winning The Open is a memory I'll cherish forever.

“It's the ultimate tournament in golf. All my days growing up practicing in Dungannon and then from there going to university in America and then all the hours I've had practicing in Portrush and playing all around the world related to having that one putt to win the Open. It took me a while, but I eventually got there.”

He sure did thanks to a composed final round when he was cheered on every hole. The Liverpool fan never walked alone.

“In the last round I was able to control my nerves and get off to a decent start. I think the second putt I holed on the first green set the tone for the day. I played quite nicely and under control doing what I had to do to get over the finish line.

“It was a weird one walking up the 18th because I was trying to work out how many putts I had from the edge of the green to win. I realised I'd got enough and that I could handle it.

“It was an incredible experience because the crowd were so kind through the week. Walking up the 18th through all the support and having so many people applauding and cheering me on was very, very special.”

Clarke's golf since The Open has not been near the quality on show at Sandwich, though perhaps a downturn in form should have been expected.

Now he is ready to go again and with a new personal trainer recruited, the Irish Open being played at Royal Portrush and the majors, which will include his defence of The Open, Darren has a huge year ahead. He insists he wants to experience that winning feeling once more.

“I haven't played my best since I won at Royal St George's. I think maybe I've worked too hard to back up the Open success and that had an adverse effect on my golf at the end of last year.

“The determination and desire is still there and is as strong as it has ever been. I want to win more tournaments and the bigger the better.”

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