‘I detest the game at times...but I can’t give it up. It’s like a drug to me’ -- Darren Clarke
FUNNY old game, golf. If your name is Darren Clarke and you have a great talent, and you play the game for a living at the highest level, it can still drive you mad at times. Indeed, as Clarke reveals in his forthright new autobiography 'An Open Book' (Hodder & Staunton), he has often thought of giving up golf because he gets so frustrated with himself.
"One of my biggest pluses is also one of my biggest negatives, in that my desire and determination, admirable qualities for the most part, sometimes get in the way of what I am trying to achieve.
"I want things so badly that although my attitude has driven me to the highest of highs, it has also taken me to the lowest of lows. And I find it very difficult to deal with the lows."
In another revealing passage he says: "I've seriously thought about packing it (golf) in on several occasions but those feelings have not lasted because I love the game so much.
"I absolutely detest it at times too. I really do, and I sometimes wonder about the futility of it all, but I just can't give it up. It's like a drug to me. The challenge keeps me going."
Clarke, British Open champion of 2011, has enjoyed a great career, but even the most humble hacker can empathise with his love-hate relationship with the game.
Ask anyone who has gone to the last hole of the Captain's or Lady Captain's prize needing "only" a bogey or even a double-bogey to win and who shoots a horrible seven or eight about the emotional highs and lows of golf.
But yet the game has so many dimensions, not least as a therapeutic tool for mental and physical afflictions. There is, of course, rich irony at play here. This golf, this game, this activity that can bring champion and hacker equally to their knees emotionally, is often a route to salvation for men and women who have suffered major trauma.
Take, for example, the recent and magnificent combined efforts of Irish hotels, restaurants and golf courses laying out the welcome mat for the Wounded Warriors, a group of US male and female military personnel who had suffered grievous injury on active service.
Major Ed Pulido, US Army (retired), is president of the Folds of Honour Foundation, an organisation set up to look after wounded servicemen, the education of their children and the care of those whose parent or spouse did not make it home.
Major Pulido, who lost a leg in a land mine explosion in Afghanistan, viewed the Irish trip as an opportunity to tell the inspirational stories of wounded US soldiers and to raise awareness of the challenges they face.
He was one of the 25 golfers on the two-week trip, which was principally organised by Linton Walsh, CEO of Golf Digest Irish Tours, a joint-venture company with Conde Nast in New York, publishers of some of the biggest magazine brands in the world.
Aer Lingus, Tourism Ireland and Failte Ireland collaborated with leading hotels and resorts, and headline golf clubs opened their doors free of charge.
The clubs the Wounded Warriors visited were among the best in the country: Ballybunion, Tralee, Dooks, Waterville, Old Head, Fota Island, Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Portmarnock, The European Club and Dromoland Castle.
Major Pulido put it all in context. "Golf, and other sporting and social interests, helps in the healing process, but they and their families are still grappling with very real and very big problems," he said.
"We are talking about soldiers who have lost their eyesight, hands, arms or legs serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who are suffering with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, but in spite of their injuries are all totally inspirational and positive beyond belief."
The people on that trip were high-profile casualties who are finding golf helpful in coping with life after severe injury, but many hundreds of thousands of disabled and injured people also find it therapeutic.
Golf has also been used to rehabilitate those with less visible but no-less-daunting scars in the mental health area. Professionals dealing with those suffering from psychosis have encouraged patients to play golf, as much to get them out of their house and into a social environment as anything else.
Closer to home, The Society of One Armed Golfers is well established, as is the Blind Golf Society.
Recently, the One Armed Golfers of Europe successfully defended their version of the Ryder Cup, which is the Fightmaster Cup, at Blackhawk Trace GC in Bloomingdale, Chicago. It was a full-on three-day event, with foursomes and fourballs on the first two days and 12 singles on the final day.
The remarkable feature here was that Europe was represented by 12 men but their captain was Mayo woman Mary Fahy. She and vice-captain David Bailey led Europe to a win by 20.5 to 7.5.
Mary has been a member of the One Armed Golfers GS in this country since 1992. She is the only female member and says: "I play left-hand back, and I love the game and the society.
"The atmosphere in Chicago was electric. It would have been easier to play than to be watching, but this was a very significant win for Europe against the best one-armed golfers in America."