By Brian Keogh
Happy hooker Darren Clarke says he feels like a rookie again.
At 38, he’s a grey-haired, single father of two young boys trying to piece his life together again after the death of his wife.
Once as high as world No 6, the aftermath of his tragic loss last year has seen him crash to 124th in the world rankings and a lowly 142nd in the European Order of Merit.
But with fishing keeping him sane on the long summer evenings, he insists he feels like he’s starting his career all over again.
He said: “I feel like a rookie again. I have had a lot of weekends off and lot of Saturday mornings off with a hangover. But that is the game.
“You go through hard times and you go through good times. I’ve never had as hard a time as what I’ve had of late. But I’ve stuck my head down and worked through it.”
With new shafts in his irons and two 9 lb rainbow trout landed on the lake at his sumptuous Forbes Lodge residence already this week, Clarke is looking on the bright side of life again.
Even when he missed seven cuts on the spin earlier his year, he knew he was on the road back to the top.
Happy to close with a 66 in Loch Lomond on Sunday, he beamed in the sun at Carnoustie yesterday as he prepared for his favourite major
Yet he confessed that he is only now beginning to realise how much he has been through recently and the toll it has taken on his game.
He said: “I didn’t realise that all the stuff that had happened last year with Heather passing away was going to affect me.
“People deal with it in different ways. Yes, I got through the Ryder Cup but after that the harsh reality set in and it has taken me a long time to deal with it.
“Obviously it was frustrating and disappointing to play as poorly as that but at the same time, I look on it as something that was going to happen, it was part and parcel of it all.
“But I’ve been working hard, spent a lot of time working, working, working and it is nice to see things turn around again. I know better than most through adversity of late that you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to persevere."
After heading out alone behind Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara, just after 6 am, Clarke had his day’s work done by midday yesterday and with his club cock-up sorted out, he says he’s hitting the ball better than ever.
He’s not predicting an Open victory out of nowhere but still believes his game is “as good as it has been for a long, long time.”
Even his golf clubs have undergone a revolution.
He said: “Whenever I signed contract with Taylormade I got all my clubs made in America and they measure shaft differently and wrong ones have been going in.
“With all the other things that have been going on these past three years I wasn’t going to blame the clubs. But I sorted it out and after two shots I noticed a massive difference.
“Whether that turns into scores, we shall have to wait and see. I am really looking forward to it.
Clarke hardly remembers the 1999 Open, where he finished 10 shots outside the play-off in 30th place and spent most of the week “hacking out of the s***e.”
He said: “This time the course is magnificent, absolutely fantastic. The set-up is perfect. The way it is playing at the minute is perfect.
“I love it, one of the best courses in the world. They haven’t messed with it this time at all, just got it absolutely right.”