Clarke pays emotional tribute to late wife after British Open win
Published 18/07/2011 | 05:00
GOLFER Darren Clarke last night paid an emotional tribute to the wife he lost to cancer five years ago. The Open champion thanked those around him for the support that he believes made it possible to fulfil his lifelong dream.
"It's been a long and bumpy road, I have had some good things happen to me and some bad things, but I've had so much support from an awful lot of people," said Clarke. "I'd like to thank my parents and my fiancee Alison, and there's someone up there watching as well."
A beaming Clarke, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, wasted no time in kicking off the celebrations after a 20-year wait to have his name immortalised on the coveted Claret Jug.
He supped at a pint of the black stuff as he relished his first victory in a golf Major, at Royal St George's in England yesterday -- becoming the oldest winner of the Open Championship since 1967.
"It's just incredible, I don't know what to say," Clarke said, with the oldest trophy in golf and a €1m pay packet at his side. "It's been a dream since I've been a kid to win the Open."
One of the sport's most popular players, Clarke's determination has never been in doubt. Five years ago, only a month after his wife, Heather, died of breast cancer, the golfer helped lead Europe to Ryder Cup victory on home soil.
"In terms of what's going through my heart, there's obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she'd be very proud of me," said Clarke, who is ranked No 111 in the world.
"She'd probably be saying, 'I told you so'."
After finishing 5-under 275, he promised to fill the jug with some "nice, Irish black stuff" by nightfall.
He became the third Northern Ireland winner in the last six Major championships. It's just four weeks since his young compatriot Rory McIlroy (22), from Holywood, Co Down, claimed victory in the US Open.
A delighted McIlroy immediately dubbed Northern Ireland the "golf capital of the world". The pair are so close that after McIlroy's victory, Clarke pulled out of a tournament to return to Holywood for the celebrations.
It also follows Graeme McDowell's victory in last year's US Open. Last night, the Northern golfer tweeted "what a story . . . very emotional for him. There will be tears."
Of the success enjoyed by the North, Clarke said: "We have fantastic golf courses, we have fantastic facilities, but to have three Major champions from a little, small place in a short period of time, it's just incredible."
Clarke's father, Godfrey, and his mother, Hetty, said it was "absolutely marvellous" that he had notched up another win for Northern Ireland after "trying for 20 years".
"I can't really put it into words but we are totally over the moon with him, for him," his father said. Hetty said they had always had faith that he would win a major competition.
"He has worked so hard all these years and this is the pinnacle of everything," she said. "For five years it has been tough, not just on Darren but on his wee boys (Tyrone and Conor) and all the family, but coming back to Northern Ireland was the best decision he ever made."
Clarke's fiancee, Alison Campbell, said he had shown no nerves, relaxing in the house and having some fun before the last day of the competition got under way.
"He knows exactly what the game is like. It just takes one hole to win it or lose it on some occasions, as he has found out."
The tributes continued to pour. Tiger Woods said it was a "well deserved win", while Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised the victory as a "vindication" of the resilience Clarke has shown in both his personal and golfing life.