Clarke gets the winning feeling

(AFP)

 

Let's not doubt this – everyone who is anyone in golf, starting from world No1 Tiger Woods to Mr Joe Bloggs who tuned into the 2006 Ryder Cup just to find out what the fuss was all about, would be happy with this particular victory.

To say Darren Clarke was a popular winner of last week's BMW Asian Open in Shanghai, would be an understatement. It was like Miss Congeniality going on to win the Miss Universe title as well.

Everybody loves Darren. There are the millions who watched his heroism in helping Europe beat the US in the 2006 Ryder Cup just weeks after the death of his wife, Heather, following a protracted battle with cancer; the thousands who have benefitted from the cancer charity in memory of Heather; and the hundred odd female caddies of Cengkareng Golf Club in Jakarta, who would have followed Clarke's exploits on the mega LCD TV that he won this year at the Indonesian Open for scoring a hole-in-one and immediately got installed at the caddy shack.

What the heck...even Robert Jan-Derksen, the Dutchman who was at the receiving end of Clarke's 40-feet birdie putt on the final hole on Sunday, seemed to celebrate the Ulsterman's win.

The victory was Clarke's first in five years – his last being the WGC-NEC Invitational way back in 2003 – and definitely, the sweetest of his 15 international triumphs. Even better than his two World Golf Championship wins, including the 2000 WGC-Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship, when he defeated Woods in the final.

After the victory, a jubilant Clarke said: "This one is very special. This is the toughest one of all of them and it's nice to get back up to where I feel my golf should be. It's nice to win again and it's a really good feeling.

"This is the very top. I have been working harder than I have ever worked on all aspects of my game. I have been putting in nine-hour days and it is nice to see it pay off."

In fact, it was a huge mental hurdle. Not just to overcome Derksen on that windy afternoon in Shanghai, but also get over his painful recent past.

Clarke made three bogeys in four holes from the 14th onwards after holding up admirably in tough playing conditions. That opened the door for Derksen, who had fallen back with a double bogey on the 14th. When the duo reached the 18th green, they were tied at seven-under, before Clarke turned on the magic with his putter. "I have overcome a big mental hurdle," added Clarke.

"It was always going to be a difficult hurdle for me to get back into the winners' circle after Heather had passed away.

"My mind started going forward from the 14th onwards, I lost my concentration and started thinking about Heather and the boys and in this game, unless you keep your concentration for the whole way, you make mistakes. That's what I did. But on the last green, I gathered myself and said hit a good putt. Luckily I did and it went in. My boys Tyrone and Conor would have liked that putt more than I did."

The victory lifted Clarke to 112th in the world rankings, a jump of over 100 places, but more importantly, it gives him a new goal for the season – to qualify for the European Ryder Cup team this year when they take on the US at Valhalla, Kentucky, in September.

The 39-year-old said: "If anything, my win has given me renewed vigour to carry on and keep working, because I want more of this... to put the work in and get a bit out again feels good.

"If I qualify for the Ryder Cup, that would be fantastic. That is back as a realistic goal now. I have given myself a bit of a boost, but there is still a long way to go to qualify.

"There is nothing that helps your confidence like winning.

"My focus is to keep playing as good golf as I can and I do desperately want to be part of the team at Valhalla."

Clarke revealed while in Dubai for the Desert Classic that he has a new love in his life, American Kerry Schiller, who works for a London law firm. And he also said he was finally getting over the "guilty feeling" he got whenever he was leaving his kids behind and travelling for tournaments.

Clarke said: "Any parent, not just me, who leaves your kids for work, you feel guilty and I guess mine was multiplied as a single parent. But I have got great people at home helping me out and that makes it a lot easier for me. And the kids are getting older and it is easier to talk and keep in touch. They are much happier now, they're moving on with things as best we can."

By all accounts, the Clarkes are doing a great job in moving on with their lives.

 

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