New obsession makes Darren Clarke perfect captain
The Guinness-swilling broth of a boy we used to know as Darren Clarke is gone and the myth of golf's laughing cavalier has been blown.
When the 'real' Darren Clarke stands up these days, he's more than four stone lighter and wears his trouser belt 10 inches tighter.
Most of those shocked and awed by their first glimpse of the new, svelte Clarke at January's Volvo Champions in Durban fully expected the Ulsterman to ditch the dumbbells and dump the diet by springtime and to be back to his enormous usual self in the summer.
A year and still counting into the diet and daily gym routines, evidence of the unstinting resolve and grim determination which drove Clarke to the pinnacle of golf is plain for all to see.
Every pound he's lost (and keeps off) is a nail in the coffin of the phoney image of Clarke as a feckless man who'd downed more pints than he'd teed-up practice shots.
His wife Alison brought the house down during 'An Evening With Darren Clarke' at The K Club last Friday when she quipped: "We've got a word in the house … instead of OCD we have ODC'.
That's 'Obsessive Darren Clarke', a man consumed by the lifelong pursuit of perfection.
Behind a cover of cigar smoke, Clarke has always worked relentlessly at his game and, at age 46, his passion for golf remains undimmed, despite three years of frustration following his career-high Open victory at Sandwich.
The salient point is that Europe can expect the same unstinting application if, as expected, Clarke is named captain of the Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine in Minnesota.
During his captaincy, Paul McGinley brought the job to a new level. With staggering attention to detail, he set a new template to help his team embrace their unfamiliar role as Ryder Cup favourites at Gleneagles.
He explained how his five assistant captains (another innovation) and even guest speaker, Alex Ferguson, all were on-message, He told how the team rooms at Gleneagles were all festooned with powerful images and words designed to help the team deal with expectation; encouraging them to inspire and, in turn, draw inspiration from the home crowd.
It is essential the next captain, presumably Clarke, takes the baton from McGinley and maintains the evolutionary process.
Clarke, who played his fifth and most memorable Ryder Cup at The K Club, was in the Sky commentary booth in Scotland and not in the team room. Though a vice-captain at Celtic Manor and Medinah, this break in Europe's line of succession was as unfortunate as it was inevitable.
He and McGinley been friends, comrades and rivals virtually since boyhood and Clarke says: "We still speak. Things obviously were strained but, at the end of the day, I've nothing but a huge amount of respect for Paul and always will do."
Don't be fooled by his reputation as a bon viveur. Clarke is no 'Woosie-in-waiting'. The days of laissez-faire captains have gone and as his dedication to keeping that svelte physique suggests, he will be relentless in his determination to maintain Europe's winning template.