Maybe there was a fear, even a danger, that Darren Clarke would become a forgotten man. Not afraid of it. For much of the past year, the tanned six-foot-two, 52-year-old Ulsterman has been shipwrecked on a Caribbean island paradise, breaking free to win the PGA Champions Tour – which he did during of his last two. outings – to remind us that her presence is greater than she has ever been.
For Clarke, in a professional career that now spans beyond 30 years, with a major and a few WGCs on her resume, the image has at times been at odds with the hard work behind the scenes. The cigars, the Guinness and champagne lifestyle, the fashion sense were, in truth, the rewards of a work ethic which often saw him as one of the first men on the practice and one of the last to leave. . As much as anyone in his career, there was a realization that only hard work would complement talent.
Still, it seems rather fitting that, as the Champions Tour has become his primary focus, much of his time these days is spent at his home on the idyllic island of Great Abaco in the northern Bahamas, where the championship course – the Abaco Club on Winding Bay – is specially prepared to stand out from its assaults on the Seniors circuit (over 50 years old) and where bone fishing on the Marls has become a second obsession .
“Fishing is my big hobby outside of golf; fly fishing is the holy grail of fishing. Not only do I feel insane trying to golf, but I drive myself insane trying to catch the toughest fish in the ocean on a fly rod, ”Clarke said.
“It’s all sight fishing, so you never cast a fly until you see fish. You’re standing on the bow of the dumpster and you’re probably in three, four feet of water. You have a guide behind you, the guy who fishes with me all the time is called Patrick, and he beats; you can’t make noise because if you make noise it scares the fish. So he walks over to some apartments where we’re going and then you look 100 yards looking for shadows, looking for anything that moves, that shouldn’t be there. Then you need to be able to throw maybe an 80-90ft throw, maybe land it in a one foot circle in a 25mph crosswind, so it’s hard to tell. the least.
“Then you can do everything perfectly and they just don’t eat; they have a good sense of smell, taste, everything, and if that doesn’t sound right, you don’t stand a chance. They call it fever every time you get addicted to these fish and unfortunately I have it.
Moments of anguish
What did the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy say? “The two greatest warriors are patience and time.”
Well, it looks like Clarke – someone who as we know has had his angsty moments on the golf course – has learned and embraced both the virtue and the concept.
As he said of his fly fishing, “It’s a real challenge, a lot of patience. I don’t know where I’m getting it from, but I’m the most patient when I’m at the bow of a skip looking out. It translates to golf because it’s the only time I have stopped golfing altogether; for fly fishing you have to have a beautiful sky and I am on beautiful waters and all that, so I go completely into my fishing and I forget my golf. I turn off, so I use it a lot to get away from things.
When he’s not fishing, he’s playing golf. “Whenever I’m here, I train and play every day. Every day I work, I do little chunks and I still work as hard as I ever did, if not harder, trying to improve myself because the guys (on the Champions Tour) are really good. If you don’t work at it, you won’t be successful at all. “
In fact, it took a while for Clarke to make his mark on a Champions Tour where Bernhard Langer seemed ageless, where Phil Mickelson (bouncing between the two tours) made an immediate impact and where people like Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen are among those who ply their trade.
Clarke first dipped her toes in the Champions Tour shortly after her 50th birthday. August 2018. Any perception that he would hit the ground while running was immediately corrected when he competed in the Boeing Classic near Seattle. He felt “happy enough” after a 68 opening round to be swept away by a plethora of hot spots. Kevin Sutherland shot a second round 60 and Scott Parel won the 54 hole tournament in under 18. Clarke’s eyes snapped open.
Although Champions Tour courses tend to play shorter than the main course and the rough is not as severe, the main task of getting the ball into the hole with as few strokes as possible was: “If you don’t you’re low, you don’t stand a chance. It took me a while to figure out what to do and how I was going to do it.
In fact, it took Clarke two years to break through. Last November, finally, he won the Timber Tech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida with a shot from Langer and Furyk. But nothing is ever complicated with Clarke: The victory saw him take part in the Charles Schwab Cup in Arizona next week, but he was unable to travel because his US visa was due to expire in the previous days.
“So I had to leave the United States (go back to Abaco). With all the Covid restrictions in place, all embassies around the world had closed and you needed an in-person interview to get the visa, ”he explained. Finally, he managed to get a visa issued by the Embassy of Nassau (capital of the Bahamas) and that meant he could resume playing at the Mitsubishi Electric tournament in Hualalai, Hawaii where he covered the last nine out of 30 to sign. for 64 and a Total of 21 under, two shots from Goosen.
Clarke had rediscovered the art of winning, and her back-to-back hits (winning $ 300,000 and $ 310,000 respectively) brought her a special thank you to her friends at Abaco – “Matt and Kevin and John and Clint” – who became her. regular playmates, the scrambling format sharpening his game.
“I was very lucky to find myself (at Abaco) and to become the club’s ambassador. The golf course is sensational, a true championship golf course. The practice facilities are second to none. The whole place from the first day we got here, we never locked our front door at night. It is also a very safe place. He ticks all the boxes. “
This weekend Clarke is back in competition, in the Chubb Classic in Naples, Florida, which effectively kicks off his season in a year that will also see him return to the scene of his greatest triumph, his 2011 Open Championship victory. at the Royal St Georges in Kent, England.
“I haven’t been back since. If I had to risk a guess I could do the same thing I did at Royal Portrush and maybe hit the first tee shot Thursday morning as the last time champion. It’s fine with me, I have no problem with that, it’s a huge honor.
Clarke’s competitive focus, however, these days is on the Champions Tour and the Senior Open at Sunningdale the week after Sandwich is one of the targets.
“I’m shock-a-bloc from now on, a very busy schedule. The real part of our tournament season is starting now. . . I am focusing these days on the Champions Tour. We have the British Seniors Open at Sunningdale the week after which I am really looking forward to too, having lived that way and played a lot of golf there. My life and golf is on the Champions Tour right now, that’s where my focus is. It’s a very difficult tour and you have to play well to keep your card. I’m focusing on finishing this list as high as possible. “
Clarke backs McIlroy to get back to his best with Cowen
“If you look at what Rory has achieved in the game with Michael Bannon, it’s amazing. We put Rory – and rightly so – on such a pedestal because he is the most gifted player in the world. We put him so high there and expect so much of him all the time, and with this amount of talent I can only imagine how frustrated he gets whenever he doesn’t quite perform the way he does. wish.
“I know Pete (Cowen) well. He helped me win the Open, many tournaments around the world, and his knowledge combined with Rory’s talent, I can only see it helping him massively.
“Rory is the most talented and naturally gifted player in the world. We expect him all the time and it’s hard. Rory has his own expectations, no matter what others are. He desperately wants to finish the Grand Slam in Augusta and if there is ever a golf course that is built for him it would be Augusta. I want to see Rory McIlroy at full speed again, there’s no one better when he’s on it. I love watching Rory when he’s playing his best.