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'I was gone': Darren Clarke opens up on emotional Ryder Cup heroics in 2006 shortly after wife Heather's tragic death

 

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Darren Clarke won all three of the matches he played at the 2006 Ryder Cup, just six weeks after the passing of his wife Heather.

Darren Clarke won all three of the matches he played at the 2006 Ryder Cup, just six weeks after the passing of his wife Heather.

PA Archive/PA Images

Darren Clarke won all three of the matches he played at the 2006 Ryder Cup, just six weeks after the passing of his wife Heather.

An event quite unlike any other; the Ryder Cup inspires the highest and lowest of golfing emotions.

Darren Clarke has been talking about his experiences at the sport's most famous matches, from the emotions of scoring the winning point at the K Club in 2006 to being the losing captain at Hazeltine 10 years later.

The undoubted highlight of Clarke's long history with the Ryder Cup, and up there with the best of entire event's illustrious history, was the weekend in Kildare in September 2006.

It was just six weeks since the tragic death of his wife Heather.

Nonetheless, he got the call by Ian Woosnam to be a captain's pick and, as Heather had instructed him, he didn't turn it down.

He would go on to play three matches, claim three wins, and put in a performance that even Tiger Woods would call 'an inspiration'.

“I think Woosie was very smart with me and very brave, I thought," said Darren on this week's McKellar Golf Podcast. "It was a brave call to pick me to be part of the team.

“Imagine if I had a collapse and wasn’t able to play? He would have got a lot of criticism.

“The whole week he was brilliant with me. I don’t think mentally I would have been able to play five times. He was very smart and used me perfectly for the team.”

Clarke partnered Westwood in the last match of the Friday morning fourballs and, after an emotional welcome from the Irish crowd on the first tee, defeated Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco one up.

"I’ve got no idea to this moment how I managed to hit the ball 310 or whatever down the middle off the first," he said. "I thought I could duff it, miss it, top it. I had no idea.

"I looked at Lee, he’s got tears in his eyes, Billy (Foster – caddy) has got tears in his eyes and I look at them and go ‘boys we’ve got to man up and try and win the match’.

“It was a very emotional moment and one I’ll never forget.”

Clarke and Westwood teamed up again for the Saturday fourballs and managed to beat Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk 3&2.

It was increasingly apparent that a legendary performance was unfolding and was duly completed on Sunday afternoon on the 16th green, when Clarke beat Zack Johnson 3&2 for what seemed to be the winning point - although it later emerged Luke Donald had holed out seconds earlier.

“I was gone," he says of standing on the green in front of a jam-packed crowd. "I kept all my stuff together but I got onto that 16th green and the emotions got to me. I couldn’t contain it anymore.

"I had a 20 footer downhill for birdie and left it three foot short but Zach picked the ball up. It wasn’t a putt you would give, it was a smelly little three foot downhill. I think Zach and Tom Lehman (US team captain) could see where I was. It meant a lot to me. 

“There was a lot of emotion. The thing I’m most proud of is that I helped the team and we won.”

Not quite as found a memory is Clarke's 2016 trip to Hazeltine as European captain. Davis Love III's USA team would ultimately win 17-11, the biggest winning margin since 1981.

He admits to still being 'p***ed off' at the result and pointed to the course set-up, with the rough cut down to suit the American players

 Clarke also had to contend with the Danny Willett controversy as the Masters champion's brother Pete had recently written a satirical article referring to the American fans as, among other things, a 'baying mob of imbeciles'.

Ultimately, Willett would play three times and lose all three.

“That wasn’t Danny’s doing and I really felt for him," revealed Clarke. "It was a ridiculous article at the worst possible timing; Danny’s first Ryder Cup. With the animosity that was running towards him from the spectators, I didn’t think it would be right to have him out on Friday morning in the first matches. I was trying to protect him.

"I think the whole scenario got to him and he wasn’t on top of his game. It wasn’t Danny’s fault, it was his brother’s. Have a bit of common sense.”

This year's Ryder Cup is still scheduled to be played in September, although Rory McIlroy has repeatedly called for the tournament to be delayed until 2021 if it can't be played with supporters this year.

It's a view shared by Clarke, who says he wouldn't want to play in the event without the unique, raucous atmosphere provided by fans.

Another thing he has in common with the current world number one is that he won his first major in 2011. In fact, Clarke explained why he partly has his Northern Irish compatriot to thank for the motivation for his Open Championship victory.

The day before the tournament started, Clarke played a practice round with the then reigning US Open winner and, when they were joined by Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and defending Open winner Louis Oosthuizen, Clarke became the butt of a joke that would only last four days.

“The three youngsters start shouting at me; ‘Where’s your major Darren?’ I made sure to ring all three of them when I won on the Sunday evening," he laughed.

Clarke, 51, is now competing on the PGA Champions Tour, which is due to return to action at the Ally Challenge beginning on July 31.

Belfast Telegraph