Party just getting started as Clarke shares glory with fans
Open winner tells of his delight at returning home to family and friends
IT HAD been a long night of celebrations. But more than 24 hours after he first clinched the British Open Championship, Darren Clarke still hadn't stopped partying.
Bleary eyed, but sporting an irrepressible grin, the Ulsterman was greeted by hundreds of fans, as well as family and friends, when he dropped into his favourite bar to continue the partying.
"It's great to be home again," Clarke (42) told the Irish Independent as he sat with his parents Godfrey and Hetty, sister Andrea and fiancee Alison in the bar of a local hotel near his house on the Antrim coast.
"It's great to be with my kids and stuff and it's just wonderful," a visibly tired Clarke said, referring to his sons Tyrone and Connor, who greeted their father shortly after his private jet touched down in Belfast City Airport.
The latest Northern Irishman to clinch one of golf's 'majors' hadn't been to bed in more than 36 hours. But he insisted he had no plans to lay his head down just yet.
"It hasn't sunk in, so it's great. But I'll be trying to sober up for the next three days I would imagine," he joked.
"It is wonderful, everybody's been so supportive, they've been so kind to me, it's been brilliant," Clarke said.
Forget about a hole in one, the big Dungannon man was simply knocking them back in one as wellwishers gathered round for a glimpse of the famous Open Claret Jug.
As news spread that the famous golfer was back in the seaside town, dozens of excited schoolchildren descended on the Bayview Hotel in the hope of catching sight of their hero and maybe even capturing an autograph.
The Tyrone man was like the pied piper as he carried the coveted golfing cup to the hotel door followed by a horde of children who made their way noisily behind him.
Darren's dad, Godfrey, spoke of his pride as his son entertained the crowds who turned out to see him.
"You have to be proud, he won a major and it's the highlight of any golfer's career. He knows now that he can win, rather than just thinking that he can win. He has put a lot of work in over the years and has come through a few hard times.
"This is his job, it's how he makes his living and if he wins trophies well and good. He has been trying to win them and it came together this time and he ended up winning the one everyone would like to have on their CV."
Later today an official celebration will be held for the golfer in his local club of Royal Portrush. Last night, however, was a more low-key affair, allowing fans to get close to Northern Ireland's latest sports star.
But nobody was expecting such access to the man who has already been dubbed 'The People's Champion'.
"It's just so good to meet him," nine-year-old Aaron Douglas from Belfast said after getting the golfer's autograph on a tiny scrap of paper.
He and his brother Alex (11) became converts to the sport of golf following Rory McIlroy's victory in the US Open last month. His father Stewart was happy that the children were following the sport.
"It's just such a positive story for Northern Ireland. I'm not a massive golfer myself but you can see the love for it, these two boys, all they want to do is play golf," Mr Douglas said
As well as holidaymakers, many of Clarke's friends came by. The night before, the golfer had personally phoned the bar in the Bayview Hotel to instruct it to open a two-hour free tab on his behalf.
"It was just magic," one local said of the night before. "We'd know him from being in here and having a few pints so it's great that he came back here today."
"He's an easy man to talk to," Ross Torrens, who has known Clarke for more than 20 years, said.
"He's a very good friend of mine. He's a lovely man, he's had his problems, he lost his wife Heather at a young age but he has met a nice girl now and things are looking good for him," Mr Torrens added.