Plenty of life yet in our new 'elder statesman' of golf
Published 18/07/2011 | 05:00
DARREN Clarke loves a nice cigar, a pint of Guinness and a fast car. But at 42, he can now be considered the elder statesman of Irish golf after his stunning Open Championship victory at Royal St George's in Sandwich.
Clarke, 20 years after his first Open, yesterday became the oldest man to win the Claret Jug since 44-year-old Argentinian Roberto De Vicenzo achieved the feat in 1967.
The 6ft 2ins native of Dungannon, Co Tyrone -- who now lives in Portrush, Co Antrim -- would smile at the 'elder statesman' notion, because there's certainly plenty of life in the 'old' boy yet.
Ironically, he has been a mentor and adviser to Rory McIlroy, who at 22 became the youngest winner of the US Open in 78 years, last month. A mercurial talent, Clarke has achieved much in his career since he turned professional in 1990.
To date, he has won 18 European and international Tour titles, earned more than €19m in prize money, and played on five winning Ryder Cup teams.
The big omission in his CV was a Major title. Critics would also say that, prior to 2004, Clarke had not won as many times as his talent deserved.
He was well known for his liking of the good life, but there was never any doubt about Clarke's professionalism.
And therein lay part of the problem. If anything, he was far too harsh and judgmental on himself when it came to his own expectations, particularly in the top tournaments such as the four Major championships.
Clarke proved he could win, and win big, defeating Tiger Woods in the 2000 WGC Andersen Consulting Match Play.
Fate stepped in harshly when his wife Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. She fought for four years against the disease before losing her battle for life in August 2006, leaving Darren and sons Conor, now 9 and Tyrone, now 12. Clarke made the brave choice to play on the European Ryder Cup team at The K Club a month later with the full support of his teammates and captain Ian Woosnam.
In 2008, he became a Tour winner again, taking the KLM Open and BMW Asian Open.
Clarke has been a good friend and adviser to Rory McIlroy for years, and McIlroy benefited from the coaching and expertise of Clarke through the Darren Clarke Foundation, which benefits promising young players.
Part of the credit for that win and for his victory yesterday goes to the new love of his life, fiancée Alison Campbell, a former 'Miss Northern Ireland', who now runs a successful model agency in Belfast. The two met in 2009 on a blind date arranged by Graeme McDowell.