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The Open: Vintage Claret keeps Darren Clarke up all hours

By Karl MacGinty

One of those hard-baked John Wayne characters or Dean Martin would have celebrated victory at the Open Championship this hard.

The morning-after had become just another part of the night before when Darren Clarke, still beaming from ear to ear, and his new best pal, the gleaming Claret Jug, rolled-up up at Royal St Georges at 9.07am yesterday for a media conference.

The only bed he’d gone near since completing his three strokes win over Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson the previous afternoon had been a flower bed in the garden around 5.00am, when Clarke took a little time out for a quiet smoke, just himself and the trophy.

Chubby Chandler chuckles as he recalls the brief panic inside the rented house in Sandwich a short while later when Clarke couldn’t find The Claret Jug it subsided only when the Ulsterman recalled he’d left it behind him outdoors.

So what had Clarke and his fellow revellers supped from the Jug was it the black stuff of which he is so fond or did he wash out the after-taste of ladybirds with champagne?

Actually, not one drop was allowed to sully the silver.

“There’s been nothing in it overnight at all,” he explained. “I’m a little bit of a traditionalist. I love the thought of whatever being in the trophy but I’m a bit of 2-iron as opposed to rescue-that-sort-of-guy.

“I feel a bit funny about putting stuff in the Claret Jug that shouldn’t be in there, so I’m a bit more reserved as to what I should do,” added Clarke.

That’s vintage Clarke, the high-roller with old-fashioned heart.

Frankly, Clarke’s coherence and self-control under questioning yesterday morning was every bit as impressive as his composure on the golf course at Royal St George’s.

“I’ve not been to bed yet,” he smiled. “There’s no surprise in that really. I probably won’t get any sleep until tomorrow at some stage — you have to enjoy it when you can. “I’ve had quite a few pints and quite a few beers and quite a few glasses of red wine. It all continued until about 30 minutes ago it’s been a very good night.”

Poignantly, Clarke explained how winning the Open means so much more to a 42-year-old man who’s had to learn the true meaning of the words ‘triumph’ and ‘tragedy’ than the garrulous, wonderfully-gifted kid who threatened to conquer the world of golf on his first coming around 10 years ago.

Back in those day, Clarke would have splashed a chunk of Sunday’s £900,000 cheque and the £2m bonus his victory earned from sponsor Mike Asley and Dunlop clothing on the latest Lamborghini or some other exotic boy’s toy.

Asked yesterday if he’d any purchases in mind, Clarke simply said: “I actually don’t have anything in mind because I’ve been there, I’ve done all that before, haven’t I?

“This time I’m a little bit older and a little bit more sensible. If I can put a little bit more aside for my boys in the future, then that’s what I’ll do, as opposed to looking after myself.”

Nodding to the Claret Jug sitting in front of him, Clarke went on: “Winning that trophy is beyond price. For all my golfing career, I’ve wanted this.

“As he always does, Chubby will look after everything and I’m fortunate that it will benefit me hugely financially, but it’s more important to have my name on there.

“What’s even more important is when I get home, maybe later on today, and my boys have the trophy in their hands, they will be able to look at their dad’s name on it.”

Of course, Clarke spoke to his sons on Sunday night.

“Tyrone (12), my oldest one, he was very pleased, very proud. He said he was going to tell everybody his dad was Open champion.

“My younger boy, Conor (10), wanted to know what he could spend all the money on. So there was a huge difference between the two but they both were very happy.”

Once again ‘home’ is in Portrush, where he and his two sons moved last autumn to open a new chapter in their lives. Instead of going to boarding school in England, Tyrone and Conor go to Dalriada College. When Clarke is away on tour they are cared for by his sister Andrea, who also happens to have two lads of the same age.

Clarke, with a little bit of help from Graeme McDowell, also met Alison Campbell, a former Miss Northern Ireland who runs the most successful modelling agency in Belfast McDowell was responsible for arranging the ‘blind date’ in London last summer which led to romance. Campbell, a vivacious and media-savvy lady, simply laughs and waves away suggestions that she has exercised a soothing influence on the golfer.

Yet there’s no doubt that returning home to the warm embrace of family and friends in Portrush and having the opportunity to play and practise on the windswept Dunluce Links over the winter played a hugely important role in Clarke’s graduation into a Major champion.

Since his late wife Heather finally succumbed in her battle with breast cancer in August 2006, Clarke has found enormous contentment as a father. “I am a professional golfer but, No 1, I am a father,” he explained.

My boys will always come first,” the Ulsterman added. “Yes, my desire is there. Yes, my determination is there. I want to win all the big tournaments in golf but if I have my choice of Majors or my kids, I’ll pick my kids every day. That’s the way it is.”

Driven by powerful sentiments like these, is it any wonder Clarke has at last found within himself the strength to prevail in the mind-warping final throes of a Major championship or that the draw, nature and even pure luck seemed to go his way at precisely the right stages during the week in Sandwich.

“Call it fate or whatever you like but sometimes in golf you get the feeling that some things were meant to be,” said Chandler.

“Things like being on the favourable side of the draw on Thursday and Friday or that ball which hit a mound and bounced right over the bunker at the ninth on Sunday — that was remarkable.”

For all his natural talent and the skills he developed as a kid practising and playing, often from before eight in the morning until long after nine on summer evenings, at Dungannon Golf Club, Clarke was almost too intense to win a Major in his younger years.

Notwithstanding last night, he’s older and wiser now.

Belfast Telegraph


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