Tuesday 12 December 2017

Clarke learns to master demons

Karl MacGinty , in Sandwich

DARREN CLARKE squared up to the greatest challenge of his career at Royal St George's on Sunday with a simple mantra playing in his head: "You're unstoppable if you are unflappable."

That was the parting message delivered to the Ulsterman from Bob Rotella, the renowned American sports psychologist credited with helping Clarke overcome the one player who consistently blocked his path to victory at the Majors: himself.

Clarke was surrounded by an astonishing aura of calm and self-assurance at the British Open, amazing even family and friends as he merely smiled in the face of any adversity he encountered on the course.

Even on Saturday, when Clarke missed an early series of short putts which usually would leave him stabbing at the self-destruct button, the 42-year-old seemed almost serene in his indifference.

Clarke conceded yesterday that his Major championship breakthrough had been founded on his attitude on the golf course.

"I was very calm and collected and in lots of the texts I've received, colleagues said they couldn't believe how calm I looked," he said.


"A lot of that has been down to Dr Bob Rotella, Mike Finnigan and a few other guys."

Yes, Clarke has two mind gurus in the camp at Sandwich, which, until now, would not have been enough to prevent this volcanic individual from boiling over.

Yet it was the renewal of his old working relationship with Rotella which struck a chord with Clarke after he had plumbed deep, dark depths of frustration during last Sunday week's third and final round of the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.

Last night, Rotella revealed how Clarke got the message in Open week and found an impenetrable aura of confidence which reminded him of the Ulsterman's famous victory over Tiger Woods at the World Match Play at La Costa in 2000.

"I think for all these guys there's a point of frustration where they're ready to do what they need to do," said Rotella, explaining why Clarke might have been ready to listen to the gospel of acceptance.

"This last year and a half we don't get to see each other a lot but at the start of the week in Sandwich he said he felt just so darned frustrated, that he'd been working his tail off on his swing and his putting drills and all he does is play worse.

"So I said to him, 'You knew how to play golf when you were 12. Why are you trying to make everything better? Just trust what you've got and go play with it'."

Insisting there's no technical reason for the putting inconsistencies which have haunted Clarke, Rotella went on: "He told me he'd got people telling him to release the club and do this or that but I urged him to have trust in his ability and just let it happen.

"If you're throwing a ball, would you think about when to release it? No! Well just let the putter do whatever it wants to do and, as soon as he went 'unconscious' in that way, Darren says 'Oh my God, I can feel my putter releasing but I'm not trying'. I also said to him, 'If you only feel good when the ball goes in the hole then you are never going to do it. Every time you execute what you have in your mind you've got to think of it as a made putt even if it doesn't go in the hole.

"This week he stayed in a good mood. He stayed happy and he enjoyed it. He talked this morning about all he went through in his life and he's had some downs. So I told him, 'You've got to feel like you're destined to win one of these things'.

"The other thing for him is a lot of acceptance. When he's in the wrong mood and makes a mistake, he then really wants to get down and beat himself up."

As he tried to persuade Clarke he was working too intensely on his game for his own good, Rotella informed him of a saying by the late and legendary American Football coach Vince Lombardi: 'Tiredness makes cowards of us all'.

According to Rotella, Clarke and his most famous client, Padraig Harrington, "are very similar, saying: "Darren asked me on Wednesday, 'How does Padraig do it?'. 'Well, he has a very quiet mind,' I said, 'and you have to have a quiet mind'.

"I felt for Padraig at the Open. He got a little concerned about his green reading and with a little concern in there, he didn't putt like he usually would. So we're not talking about being lost or scared to death.

"There's such a fine line between being right there and just a little off."

Irish Independent

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