Happy Clarke ready for major test

Darren Clarke reckons a happy home is the secret that could unlock to the door to major championship glory.

The Ulsterman, 41, will tee it up in his 52nd major feeling better than he has in years.

Smiling broadly despite torrential rain, Clarke said: “Being here at St Andrews is special, but it’s even better when you are enjoying life and I am certainly enjoying my golf again.

“I am happy and I want to play. Being happy in your job is the same for a golfer as it is for everyone else, so let’s see what happens this week.”

After tragically losing his wife Heather to breast cancer in 2006, Clarke was an emotional hero in the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club.

He went on to win two tour titles in 2008 but failed to earn a Ryder Cup wildcard from skipper Nick Faldo later that year.

The Open title is the major he most wants to win but he almost didn’t make it this year.

After failing to qualify at Sunningdale last month, he was so down in the dumps about this game that he threatened to put the clubs away for good.

His patience paid off when he won last week’s JP McManus Invitational in Limerick and then grabbed a last chance Open start thanks to his runner up finish in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.

The key to his happiness is his love for Ulster beauty queen Alison Campbell.

As a result he’s decided to leave London and move back to Northern Ireland to raise his sons Conor and Tyrone.

He explained: “A lot of things are changing in my life and moving back home to Portrush this summer is huge for me and my family,

“I can’t wait to get back home again, to be honest. It is almost like a new beginning.”

The former world No 8 is certainly hoping his recent run of hot form will continue at the Home of Golf.

He said: “I played well at JP’s pro am and played well in Loch Lomond so I’m feeling good about being here at St Andrews.

“It’s great to be here in the biggest and best tournament in the world. And to be here at the Home of Golf makes it been more special.

“Obviously I was gutted not to get in through the qualifying in Sunningdale but to get in at the weekend was very pleasing and my game is good.

“I am very happy with where my game is at right now and I am here to give myself a chance.”

Clarke is expecting a tough challenge in even tougher weather and he’s hoping that this sometimes fragile putting stroke can stand up the test.

He said: “Wedge play is going to be huge but you have got to putt well at St Andrews. Everybody is going to have 100 footers from off the green where putter is going to be the best shot.

“Judging pace and distance is going to be key, but so is decision making.  You can chip or putt from just off the green so making the right decisions is going to be massive.”

Ireland has seven men in the field and Clarke would love to be a major part of a strong Irish challenge alongside major winners Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell and young gun Rory McIlroy,

He said: “Irish golf is going great and obviously Rory is going to be pushing on the back of G-Mac to try and get up there and win.

“G-Mac has loads of confidence from winning the US Open so he’s going to have a good week.

“Gareth Maybin and Shane Lowry are improving all the time but you have to look at Padraig. He’s won the Open twice before so it’s going to be a great Irish challenge.”

Lowry is hoping he can consolidate his position in the world’s top 100 and earn a place in the US PGA next month.

But after bad weather forced him to walk off the course after just 12 holes yesterday, he knows it’s not going to be easy.

He said: “If I can have a good week here I’ll be heading to Whistling Straits for the US PGA but right now it looks like it’s going to be a tough week. The weather was horrendous out there.

“Myself and Colm Moriarty got as far as the 13th but we couldn’t make the carry to the fairway. It was only 220 yards but it was impossible in a 40mph wind so we decided to come in.

“It’s my first major so I’ve no idea what to expect but if this wind keeps up you are going to need your scoring boots on. There will be a lot of 10 footers for par and you just have to hole them.”