Darren Clarke became the oldest winner of The Open since Roberto de Vicenzo in 1967 but the 42 year old credited Padraig Harrington as the man who “got the ball rolling” and set the Irish golfing revolution in motion.
His closing 70 gave him a emotionally charged three-stroke win over Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson on a squally day at Royal St George’s and handed Ireland an incredible sixth victory from the last 17 majors.
Less than five years after he broke down on the 16th green at The K Club after he won three points out of three in a heroic Ryder Cup performance just a few weeks after the death of his wife Heather, Clarke serenely kept his emotions in check to achieve the dream of a lifetime.
He dedicated his victory to his late wife and his sons Tyrone and Conor and while it would be easy to believe his first major win was a gut reaction to those back-to-back US Open triumphs by fellow Ulstermen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, he pointed to Harrington’s three major wins in 13 months as the true catalyst.
“It’s been brilliant but it wasn’t just G-Mac and Rors,” Clarke said. “It was Padraig and for Irish golf in general, his major wins and the way he achieved them, he got the ball rolling.
“I was slightly ahead of Padraig in the sense that I was on tour before him. And then he started winning majors and played fantastic and then G-Mac has won the US Open and Rory has won the US Open a couple of weeks ago and I have managed to win the Open. It’s just an incredible run of form for people from home.”
Clarke rose 81 places to 30th in the world thanks to a victory that many believed should have come a long time ago. He was 111th in the world at the start of the week despite winning three times on the European Tour since 2008 with the most recent of those wins coming in Mallorca in May.
But he explained that his game has taken a back seat to his role as a father in recent years following his wife’s passing in August 2006 after a long battle with breast cancer.
Asked if he ever doubted his ability to get back to the top of the game, he was quick to answer.
“Did I ever doubt myself? No. Did I ever think that I wouldn’t get myself back into this position? Yeah. I never knew I was going to do that. Did I ever doubt my own ability? Never. Not at any stage. Did I get frustrated and fed up and annoyed? Yeah. Did I doubt by ability? No.”
Arguably the most impatient man in golf, Clarke hooked up with Dr Bob Rotella early in the week and vowed to accept everything that came his way. It was Rotella who helped Harrington become a world beater and Clarke finally learned that demanding perfection from himself on the golf course was a recipe for disappointment.
“My attitude was very good all week. I was very accepting which rarely happens for me because I want everything yesterday, I want everything perfect and the game doesn’t give you that. This week I went out and I was perfectly prepared to accept everything that happened, both good and bad. Yesterday I played really nicely and didn’t get the score I should have had, I felt. Today I went out and got a couple of good breaks that went my way that possibly made up for yesterday.”
He earned a cheque for £900,000 plus a £2m bonus from the millionaire businessman Mike Ashley thanks to a no-major no-money deal to wear the Dunlop logo - a deal struck by his manager Chubby Chandler in 2005.
He will earn many more times that amount over the coming years, of course. As Chandler said at the finish: “He is a brand already so what he has done is rekindle his brand. But don’t ask me about money. I am not interested. I’ve got a Claret Jug there and he’s got a Claret Jug there. We will work out the money tomorrow.”
For Chandler, watching Clarke win the Open was like watching his first born take his first steps.
Clarke was the first star at International Sports Management. When he first met Chandler, the Dungannon man turned up in a cashmere overcoat with nothing but a small overdraft and a truckload of ambition and talent to call his own.
“When I signed Darren, I knew we would always have a business,” Chandler has said many times in the past.
For Clarke, the win is the fulfilment of a lifetime dream and who knows, it may not be his last.
He said: “The game of golf has been very good to me. It’s given me an awful lot and I have been able to win lots of tournaments around the world and win Ryder Cups and lots of different things.
“Now I am Open champion, the game has been good to me and I will be forever grateful. But I am not ready now just to sit back. I want more. Once you get a little taste of big success, you want a little bit more.”