As Davis Love III is named Team USA captain, Northern Ireland golfer Darren Clarke opens up about the death of his wife to cancer.
The world watched with bated breath as Darren Clarke took to the first tee at The K Club in the 2006 Ryder Cup, just six weeks after the death of his first wife, Heather, to cancer.
It took just one shot for all those watching to realise one thing. Darren Clarke is what’s right about the Ryder Cup.
Pulling off a monster 340-yard drive on the first tee, the golfer from Dungannon momentarily put his Ryder Cup teammates to the top of his agenda. He didn’t want to let them down, he wanted to win.
“Don’t miss it! Don’t tap it! Don’t hit it off the toe and kill somebody on the first tee — all sorts of thoughts were going through my head when I stepped up to take that first shot,” said Clarke, who was selected as a wildcard by Team Europe captain Ian Woosnam just weeks before the tournament.
“Thankfully, it went straight down the middle of the green so it wasn’t too bad in the end, but there was a list going through my head of things that could possibly go wrong.”
That weekend Clarke won all three of his matches in Co Kildare, joining forces with Lee Westwood to defeat Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco then Tiger Woods and Jim Fuyrk in the fourballs, before beating Zach Johnson 3 and 2 in the singles.
If you thought the first tee was emotional, the 16th was arguably even more so. As Johnson conceded a short putt to hand Clarke the match, you saw how much winning that point meant to him. He fell to his knees, the tears rolling down his face.
Europe won the 2006 Ryder Cup by an 18 to 9 points margin to equal their record set two years before.
“2006 was a difficult year for me with everything that had happened so I’ll always have special memories of that year at the K Club,” said Clarke who revealed that one of the first people to congratulate him on the win was Phil Mickelson’s wife, Amy, despite her husband being on the losing side.
“The Ryder Cup has just been an integral part of my career. It’s just very special to me.”
But Clarke insists that the Ryder Cup has a place in everyone’s heart, not just his.
“It’s not just special for me, it’s special for everybody that has ever played in it,” said Clarke (below) who is delighted to captain the 2016 Ryder Cup team — 10 years after that memorable performance at the K Club.
“It’s one of those things that, as a professional golfer, you’ve got to play in it to understand it.
“Golf is predominantly an individual sport and because this a team thing, it makes it even more special.
“You want to go out there and play well for your team,” added the 2011 Open champion, who has contributed a total of 11 points for Europe over the course of five Ryder Cups.
Clarke has already stated this week that he will call upon the help of former European Ryder Cup captains in order to prepare for the 2016 tournament at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota, as best he can.
It is also anticipated that he will call upon the services of fellow Northern Ireland major winners, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
“It’s great to have three major winners from this part of the world,” smiled Clarke, keeping tight-lipped about his potential Ryder Cup team.
“What the likes of Rory and G-Mac are doing for Northern Ireland can only shed a positive light on the province. Their exposure of Northern Ireland to the rest of the world can only be good for this place.”
Top three Ryder Cup moments
1997 Ryder Cup, Valderrama
Making his Ryder Cup debut, Clarke was part of the late Seve Ballesteros’ winning European team.
2006 Ryder Cup, The K Club
Winning three matches from three, just six weeks after the death of his wife Heather, to help Europe win.
2012 Ryder Cup, Medinah
Vice-captain Clarke both calmed down and cheered on players during Europe’s dramatic fightback.