'I couldn't face hitting a putt – then I won The Open'
When you meet Darren Clarke it’s hard to get past how robust he is. His legs are so sturdy that he struggles to cross them, and barrel-chested doesn’t even begin to describe his upper half.
As immaculate as he always is, whether on the course or in one of his trademark tailored suits, he’s a bear of a man. While in his company all I can think about is what a perfect shape he is for unpicking a classic links in some high winds.
He looks like a proper golfer, he speaks like a proper golfer, and his opinions are those of a proper golfer. And he’s got some good stories. So sit back, relax and enjoy a few of them.
On what drives him…
“I joined the European Tour in 1991 and I’ve just started on the Champions Tour. It’s the hope of the next win that keeps you going.
“You work and work and work and if you don’t have the belief through the hard times then you won’t have the belief through the good times.
“I had three good opportunities to win The Open and messed them up and the belief kept me going to win it at 42.”
On the big-hitting youngsters…
“There are so many young kids out there with the talent but talent alone is not a guarantee of success, it needs to be in your heart.
“There are kids on the range who can hammer the ball 320 yards through the air, launch it at 13 degrees with a spin rate circa 2,200 and a clubhead speed of 182 miles-per-hour. It all sounds great until you put the ball on the tee and there’s water left and right and you have to hit the fairway.
“You have to have it in your heart and you have to have the battling instinct to keep on going, to hole that six-footer in the middle of your round. That’s what great champions do. You have to really believe it.
“If you’ve got a youngster who is promising then, for at least half their practice time, take away every club apart from their sand wedge, lob wedge and putter. You can never be any good if you can’t do that. Ask any tour pro and they’ll say that from 100 yards in that’s where we make our money.
“Rory came to my foundation at 20 and, from the age of 12, he has always been able to rip it. One of the challenges for the better ball striker is that the better you get the more challenging it is to love your putting.
“You hit it better, you give yourself more chances and so you will miss more putts.
“If you miss greens and get up and down a lot then that feels better than hitting driver, 3-iron to six feet and then missing.”
On winning The Open…
“The week before I won The Open we played at Castle Stuart for the Scottish Open. I was playing some great golf and hitting it really well. I played with Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie on the Sunday and played awful.
“I went to the players’ lounge and we had a couple of glasses of wine and Matt Kuchar and his wife joined us. They’re a lovely couple and I talked them into having a couple of drinks during the flight from Inverness to Kent.
“I woke up on the Monday and hit some balls and all was good with my game again. On the Tuesday morning I played with Lee at 6.30am and hit the first five greens to 10 feet and missed every one. I didn’t putt any more and I wasn’t talking to Lee who is my best mate.
“The next day I played with Rory. He’s hitting it great and so am I but I’m missing every putt so I stopped putting after three holes this time. We got to the 11th and we got held up by Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. They are both very good friends of mine but they were so slow, just awful, so I hit a ball into them as I just wanted to get round.
“I’m not really speaking to anyone because of my putting but Rory says we’ll play against you on the way in. Now normally you cannot get money out of the South Africans.
“But I’m with Rory and he goes birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie and we took the money.
“We’re walking off and I’m 20 yards ahead of them and all three said, chuckling, ‘Where’s your major gone, Darren?’ I made sure I called all of them up on Monday morning!”
So how did Clarke solve his putting crisis and go on to win The Open? He explains all on the next page…