By Brian Keogh
Darren Clarke is facing a Catch 22 that has left his manager Chubby Chandler wondering what the future really holds for the big Ulsterman
The ISM boss has done everything for Clarke since the five-time Ryder Cup hero turned up for their first meeting in a €2,000 cashmere overcoat in 1989.
Struggling to come to terms with the premature death of his wife Heather, Clarke has earned just €158,000 this year compared to €850,000 last season, €1.9 million in 2005 and €2.11 million in 2004.
And Chandler believes the "mega-spending" Dungannon man needs to get back to basics if he is not to face a premature move towards a new career as a commentator or golf course designer.
Assessing Clarke's fall from grace - he's had 14 missed cuts and zero top ten finishes since he finished third in last year's Irish Open - Chandler believes that Clarke needs a dose of humility to start his climb back to the top.
Chandler said: "Darren has started to go around in circles a bit and we are trying to get him to have a bit more direction in what he is trying to do.
"What happens with guys like Darren who fall off their perch, like Lee Westwood did a few years ago, is that you suddenly have no goals.
"But what exactly is a goal for Darren Clarke right now? What is the right sort of goal for him?
"He has to get back to a few basics, such as the basics of life. You should only live like a superstar, if you are a superstar and right now Darren is not quite that."
Clarke continues to live the high life, jetting around with pal Lee Westwood in the private jet they bought together two years ago.
Yet while Chandler insists that Clarke's earning power off the course continues to be as strong as ever, he is struggling to find a way of helping his first big client to battle his way back to form.
Chandler explained: "I think there is so much more going on off the course than we realise and obviously he is moving on with his life.
"But I don't think that he helps himself sometimes. He gets to wrapped up in himself and if he actually opened up to everybody else he would find that he got a bit more support than he thought he would.
"I think that trying to go back to a few basics and getting him to work with a few people he has worked with in the past, like Butch Harmon or the psychologist Karl Morris.
"At the moment he is seeking help from everywhere. Everywhere and anywhere. And it is quite interesting that Lee Westwood has comes on a ton this year as soon as he had no coach.
“As soon as Lee did it himself, he understood that it was all in there. As soon as he did that went back to working with just his dad and a camera, it started to work again.
"A bit of humility would be right for Darren and I am trying to get that into his head. He plays so much on confidence and I think that two good rounds in a row might just do the trick and he could be off and running.
"He is strong enough to be a good player for another five years. It is much more difficult to play past 40 if you are a David Gilford type- with apologies to David - than if you are a Darren Clarke or an Eduardo Romero.
"You tend to get the stronger guys surviving longer - Mark Calcavecchia in the States, is a good example - and I think Darren is the same.
"Whether Darren gets get back to where he was before, I have no idea. But the number one goal right now is to make him happy and one of the few things that makes him happy is his golf.
"As a manager you think, if he just opened up a bit more, life would be easier. But he just has this habit of closing up until it becomes difficult.
"He has got more friends than he thinks he's got but he doesn't reach out. Lee has been quite supportive and sat down for a couple of good chats with him but it is going to take time."
Clarke is fuelling his comeback bid on anger and a determination to prove to the critics who are writing him off that they are wrong.
And Chandler sees plenty of similarities between Clarke and Ernie Els, who fell into a deep slump soon after undergoing a knee operation two years ago.
Chandler said: "Ernie Els was the same. His attitude was: 'I'll show them.' And if you can use that as a positive, that's great.
"But you can't get angry about it because the scores are up there on the door. All you can do is prove people wrong.
"I think there is always a doubt with Darren anyway. He has always been a fallible star. He didn't win things he should have and then he would win things he shouldn’t have won.
"There is no doubt that he misses Heather and there is no doubt that he misses the support of Heather.
"As managers, our No 1 our job is to make him happy first and get him playing decent golf second. Unfortunately, it takes decent golf to make him happy.
"It's a Catch 22. He needs somebody to sit down and work out some proper goals and I am not the best qualified person to do that.
"He could stop tomorrow playing tomorrow. But he wouldn't be happy. There are other careers: Media, commentary, course design. But nothing will make him happy like playing good golf."
Clarke continues to earn big money off the course thanks to sponsorship deals with the likes of Oceanico Golf, Setanta TV and his golf course design business.
But as a golfer, the Ulsterman needs to get some consistency into his game and Chandler predicts a return to US coach Butch Harmon next season.
He said: "Darren will get to the end of this year and he will be glad it is over, just like he was glad to get last year over.
"I will be surprised if he doesn't spend a week with Butch next year and start to work out exactly what he needs to do with his game.
"As his manager, you always think you could have done things differently from the start. You might have put a better structure around him and put a few more controls on him.
"But at the time you don't think he is going to turn out to be a mega-spender. You learn as you go along and I have learned from Ernie Els and I will learn with Rory McIlroy."
Clarke will keep his card this year thanks to career earnings of €15,537,532. But as things stand, he is not exempt for any of the four majors and will not qualify for the WGC events either until he returns to the world’s top 50.
Currently ranked 195th in the world, Clarke is too good a player to remain in the doldrums for long.
But if things don’t start to improve soon, he may find the climb back to the top far too slippery, even for a man with his massive talent.