Clarke hoping Olazabal lesson can get putter hot
IT'S all about give and take on Tour. In recent days, for example, Darren Clarke has received a valuable putting tip from incoming Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal which the Ulsterman believes could help put him back in the winner's circle.
Yesterday on the range at the Royal GC of Bahrain, he was overhead delivering a brilliant curve ball to outgoing European skipper Colin Montgomerie.
"What's that over there," Clarke said to Monty, gesturing to a JCB. "That's a mechanical digger with a front loader," the Scotsman reputedly replied.
"So it'll be ready to go into action next Monday," Clarke retorted, implying to course-designer Montgomerie that his creation might be dug up after this week's inaugural Volvo Golf Champions.
As one might expect, Monty has been given a right royal ribbing from European Tour colleagues this week. Yet, joking apart, the greens have more humps than a camel ranch and will stretch the patience of many of his fellow professionals.
"It's clearly going to get a bit of stick from the players," Paul Casey confessed. "From tee to green it's a pretty decent layout and I like it. It's almost as if the plans came in for the green and they got crumpled -- significantly," he added with a smile.
"I like the challenge. There are one or two (greens) which are too severe and there are a few which are perfect. The green at No 9 is perfect for a par five, for example.
"You're just going to have to be creative. You're going to have occasions where the ball is going to roll off the green or into a big swale, and much will depend on how you deal with that. Do you laugh or do you get angry? I usually laugh when I play crazy golf."
Might Monty have the last laugh on his Ryder Cup vice-captain when they play together today and Clarke tries to bed in that tip from Olazabal that he hopes will solve a long-standing riddle on the greens?
Clarke missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week but certainly was in optimistic mood after yesterday's Pro-Am, acknowledging he'd played "splendidly."
"I had two hours of Jose Maria on Saturday afternoon on the putting green in Abu Dhabi," he said. "It was very good. I'd worked a bit with (putting guru) Philip Kenyon and he was reiterating what Philip had said.
"It was very nice to spend a couple of hours with 'Chema' (as Olazabal is known on Tour). "Then he saw me on Monday and we played together yesterday. He's a very good man. He just said everything about it was very good apart from I was gripping the putter too lightly, so I was having too much play in my hands."
In a readers' forum in a Spanish sports paper, Olazabal has cited Clarke, Paul McGinley and Miguel Angel Jimenez as the calibre of men he'd like to have at his side in 2012 -- though he stressed he'd made no moves towards appointing his vice-captains for Medinah.
Clarke (42) enjoyed being on Monty's back-room team at Celtic Manor, but he is driven by the ambition to play in Chicago, where he believes Olazabal will be a great captain.
"Chema will put his stamp on things at Medinah as Monty did at Celtic Manor. He's one of those guys who will always try to help others before he helps himself and I've been very fortunate to have him as a friend for a long time."
Clarke's most treasured memory of Olazabal came at the Ryder Cup in 2006, just weeks after the Ulsterman lost his wife Heather to breast cancer.
"Jose Maria had just won on the 17th green. My game was over and I'd gone to see him and he gave me a big hug and started crying.
"Nobody saw that or knew about it. Heather got on great with Chema as well. He just hugged me, burst into tears and said 'I'm very proud of you'."
With his putter working, Clarke is a match for anyone in golf yet the unique mental challenge this week might suit Padraig Harrington or Aussie short-game specialist Brett Rumford.
Ireland is also represented by Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Michael Hoey in an event which, in 2012, will bring this season's winners and players with 10-plus victories on the European Tour back to Bahrain to tee off next year's Race to Dubai.
Volvo Tournament of Champions,
Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.0am