THE Guinness-swilling broth of a boy we used to know as Darren Clarke is gone and the myth of Irish golf's laughing cavalier has been blown.
hen the 'real' Darren Clarke stands up these days, he's more than four stone lighter and wears his trouser belt 10 inches tighter.
Most of those shocked and awed by their first glimpse of the new, svelte Clarke at January's Volvo Champions in Durban fully expected the Ulsterman to ditch the dumbbells and dump the diet by springtime … and to be back to his enormous usual self in the summer.
A year and still counting into the diet and daily gym routines devised by Jamie Myerscough at Educogym, evidence of the unstinting resolve and grim determination which drove Clarke to the pinnacle of golf is plain for all to see.
Every pound he's lost (and keeps off) is a nail in the coffin of the phoney image of Clarke as a feckless man who'd downed more pints than he'd teed-up practice shots.
His vivacious wife Alison brought the house down during 'An Evening With Darren Clarke' at The K Club last Friday when she quipped: "We've got a word in the house … instead of OCD we have ODC'.
That's 'Obsessive Darren Clarke', a man utterly consumed by the lifelong pursuit of perfection.
Behind a cover of cigar smoke, Clarke has always worked relentlessly at his game and, at age 46, his passion for golf remains undimmed, despite three years of frustration following his career-high Open victory at Sandwich.
The salient point is that Europe can expect the same unstinting application if, as expected, Clarke is named captain of the Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine in Minnesota.
During his captaincy, Paul McGinley brought the job to a new level. With staggering attention to detail, he set a new template to help his team embrace their unfamiliar role as Ryder Cup favourites at Gleneagles.
As the Dubliner told last week's Web Summit at the RDS, he'd been concerned that the passion, upon which the European team relied heavily to overturn the Ryder Cup odds, had barely seen them through at Celtic Manor and Medinah.
McGinley explained how his five assistant captains (another innovation) and even guest speaker, Alex Ferguson, all were on-message, He told how the team rooms at Gleneagles all were festooned with powerful images and words designed to help the team deal with expectation; encouraging them to inspire and, in turn, draw inspiration from the home crowd; to respect the challenge posed by the opposition; to stand rock-like in the face of adversity and to be ruthless in their pursuit of victory.
These posters were just one small element of McGinley's captaincy, which helped draw an outstanding performance from the most powerful team ever to represent Europe. Indeed, it's remarkable amid the intense post-Ryder Cup fallout in the US, that so few Americans, if any, acknowledge the superior quality and performance of the winners and how well-marshalled they were.
It is essential for the next captain, presumably Clarke, to take the baton from McGinley and maintain the evolutionary process.
Clarke, who played his fifth and most memorable Ryder Cup at The K Club, was in the Sky commentary booth in Scotland and not in the team room. Though a vice-captain at Celtic Manor and Medinah, this break in Europe's line of succession was as unfortunate as it was inevitable.
In the months before McGinley's appointment, Clarke rowed back on a written pledge to support the Dubliner's bid. Then, after pulling out of the race at the 11th hour, suggested a 'big name' was required to oppose Tom Watson.
They'd been friends, comrades and rivals virtually since boyhood and Clarke says: "We still speak. Things obviously were strained but, at the end of the day, I've nothing but a huge amount of respect for Paul and always will do."
After the Ryder Cup, McGinley said he'd not let personal feelings intrude on his part in the process of appointing his successor, while Clarke insists: "First and foremost, Paul did a fantastic job. If I was fortunate enough to be given the job in 2016, Paul would be my first port of call.
"I would go to him and ask, 'What did you do here, what did you do there'. I think the Ryder Cup has meant so much to every European captain all they want to do is help their successors."
He admitted the unsettled period prior to McGinley's appointment was "very, very tough. At the time I was perceived as going completely against Paul, which was not the case. Somebody got the idea of what was going on, they ran with it and I was never given the opportunity to state my case."
Was he referring to Colin Montgomerie's emergence as a late candidate? Clarke declined point blank to revisit the episode. "I'm not going to go there. Paul did a fantastic job and was such a wonderful captain, there's no point in dragging up anything that's in the past. End of!"
The innovations introduced by McGinley during his captaincy are a different matter.
Don't be fooled by his reputation as a bon viveur. Clarke is no 'Woosie-in-waiting'. The days of laissez-faire captains have gone and, as his dedication to keeping that svelte physique suggests, the Ulsterman will be relentless in his determination to maintain Europe's winning template.
Irish look on in envy as Scots hit jackpot
RORY McILROY'S bid to restore the Irish Open as one of Europe's blue-chip events has become a tad more difficult.
As patron of his national championship, McIlroy will no doubt help attract a bumper crowd to Royal Co Down next summer by persuading some big-name colleagues on the US Tour to come and play. This in turn would boost the prospect of McIlroy or the Tour finding a title sponsor.
Yet the tournament's greatest hope of returning to the big time hinges on playing it on a seaside links in the fortnight before the British Open.
Any prospect of that happening receded with news of the extension of Aberdeen Asset Management's lucrative sponsorship of the Scottish Open to 2020, a deal backed by the promise of at least £1m per annum for the next six years from the Edinburgh Government.
So the Scots won't be moved from the week before The Open any time soon, while the French Open looks solid in its pre-Open slot in the run-up to the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le France National.
Never mind his acumen, McGinley has no interest in Tour's top job
PAUL McGINLEY showed such vision, organisational ability, man-management skills and acumen during his Ryder Cup captaincy, it's fascinating to think how he would handle the role of European Tour chief executive.
Given the appointment last year of David Williams as chairman of the Tour's board of directors, McGinley would be able to draw on the Englishman's vast experience at the highest levels in business as he cut his teeth in the job.
Yet the Dubliner, who did business studies at college, scotched a suggestion he might replace CEO George O'Grady, who has advised the Tour to start looking for his successor.
"It's not on my agenda," was McGinley's succinct reply when asked by text if he'd be interested. The 47-year-old still has a few fish to fry as a golfer, while he's pursuing several other business interests, particularly a flourishing career in course design.
To be perfectly frank, as a former Ryder Cup captain, McGinley's earning potential would by far exceed even the six-figure salary commanded by the Tour's chief executive, which demands 365 days a year commitment, especially as the Tour struggles to find blue chip sponsors during tough economic times in its European heartland and consistently provide tournament purses big enough to lure big-name players back home on a more regular basis from the US.
Among the early favourites for the position is Guy Kinnings, a qualified lawyer who heads up International Management Group's world golf division, though the new man may also come from a non-golfing background.
Give Keiser an inch. . .
GIVE US course developer Mike Keiser an Inch and he'll build a golf links, maybe even two, less than 300 yards from Dooks on the Dingle Peninsula.
Keiser, creator of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, expects to seal a deal for a parcel of land at Inch Strand and build a links laid out by local Arthur Spring Snr, Golf.com reports.
Spring has done routings on the property for 20 years and already has one approved that precedes EU restrictions. A US family named Kennedy owns the plot of land.