Darren Clarke recovered from a fit of “the madness” to forge a fantastic partnership with his Irish caddie and make his Claret Jug dreams come true.
The Ulsterman teamed up with Bray’s John Mulrooney by pure chance in Mallorca in May and immediately broke his three-year victory drought.
But the pair clashed during the final round Scottish Open at Castle Stuart nine days ago and almost gave each other mutual marching orders before Mulrooney, 42, told Clarke some home truths on the eve of the first round and they became a formidable force.
Mulrooney said: “When you are caddying for a person you get to know someone inside out. It is a very exposing game for you character.
“We have had our ups and downs and we turned up here hardly speaking. Was I almost sacked? Well, he almost ended up getting the boot as well. But that’s the way with caddying. Everybody goes through it. It’s the kind of game we are in.
“It is a very psychological game and when things don’t click and you misread each other sometimes, it is very easy to fall out.
“Caddies joke about the stuff that goes on when they talk in the caddies’ lounge. It’s hilarious afterwards, but it is not funny when it’s happening.
“We call it ‘The Madness’. Golfers get the madness. It’s the kind of game that can drive you mad.”
Clarke’s madness causes him to make the game incredibly complicated and lament his bad luck. But this time things were different.
As his manager Chubby Chandler explained: “It’s very easy to get intimidated by Darren, as you all know, especially when he’s having a bad day and John didn’t know how to approach it at first.”
Mulrooney learned quickly how to read his player and the result was one of the most emotional major wins in years.
Explaining the key to Clarke’s tear-jerking win, Mulrooney said: “He was finally prepared to listen. He has been not listening and he has finally listened and he helped himself this week.
“He got out of his own way. It came down to that. He realised that this was his last chance to win an Open, that he had to do it this time. And he did it.”
The picture was far from rosy early in the week and Clarke confessed that he was annoyed with Mulrooney because he didn’t try to talk him out of a foul mood at the Barclays Scottish Open nine days ago.
But the pair finally found their chemistry as they shared a sense of destiny and the pure shots flew on the pristine Sandwich links.
Clarke said: “John has been fantastic. We had a tough week last week in Scotland where he didn’t quite know what to do whenever I was having a little bit of wobbly on Sunday.
“But he’s finally learnt and he knows a little bit better now, obviously a lot better now, as to what to say to me and how to deal with me.
“And this week has been absolutely fantastic. You know, he was spot on with his clubs. Everything that he did all week was very, very good.
“You know, it’s fantastic to have an Irish caddie for an Irish winner.”
It was a relationship that nearly didn’t happen.
A former bagman for Jose Maria Olazabal, Mulrooney was supposed to caddie for David Howell in Mallorca but the Englishman pulled out with an injury.
He then had an offer from Maarten Lafeber but the Dutchman also withdrew injured and he ended up with Clarke after the Ulsterman’s caddie Ricci Roberts remembered he was going to Florida for the World Golf Hall of Fame induction of his former boss Ernie Els.
It was a bizarre series of events but it worked out perfectly for both as Clarke lifted the Claret Jug and Mulrooney joined an elite group of major winning caddies and pocketed his share of the €1 million pay day, believed to be the traditional 10 percent.
The Bray man felt Clarke was destined to win the Open from the moment he saw him win in high winds in Mallorca and then thrive during a practice round for the Open two weeks ago.
And his gut feeling was confirmed when he saw that they were put in Champions Alley - a corner of the Royal St George’s locker room reserved for former Open champions.
By pure chance, Clarke was given the same locker as the 1985 Open champion at Sandwich, Greg Norman.
He explained: “I think it was meant to be. We spoke a couple of months ago about how many chances he was going to have to win a major at the age of 42 and with all the trouble that has happened to him in his life.
“It did impede his career greatly. And we talked about it and Ian Garbutt of ISM called me and asked me if I wanted the bag.
“The first thing I said because of the way he hit it in Mallorca was, ‘He can win the British Open.’ So it was in my mind, it was in his mind and it happened.”
Once Mulrooney saw that Clarke had been given Norman’s locker, he was more convinced than ever that it was going to be Clarke’s week.
He said: “It felt like destiny all week. We were in the major winner’s enclosure there and it carried us through the whole time. We never really spoke about it. I felt it and he felt it.
“Tom Watson’s caddie left a nice little message tucked into the driver glove this morning saying, ‘The locker is in the right place. Go out and do it.’
“We played a practice round with Lee Westwood on Tuesday and when we came into the locker room afterwards, Darren did mention it to Lee that he shouldn’t be in here.
“They have obviously made a mistake because he noticed all the major winners and that he was in the major winner’s section.
“I said, ‘That’s a good omen that.’ It was a great thing because it really put something in our heads that it is on.
“It felt that way the whole week. All the major winners were in there, Tom Lehman and Harrington and a load of others. Some things were just meant to be and now Darren’s a major winner too.”
Mulrooney hails from the same Bray neoghbourhood as the famous Byrne caddy clan that includes Brian and Dermot Byrne.
“I started in 1989 and my first week was in Mallorca, funnily enough, with the Australian player Ossie Moore, who is a commentator with an Australian channel last time I heard.
“I caddied for Jose Maria Olazabal for a long period in the 90’s including the 1997 Ryder Cup and the NEC World Series of Golf in Akron in 1994. I won the Johnnie Walker with Jimenez and I was with Steve Webster when he won the Portuguese Masters in 2007.
“I’ve done alright. It’s all ups and downs in this game. It’s a roller coaster. I gave it up for three years one time but that was personal choice. Which was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that. I had just had enough of it. It was something I needed to go through to realise that that is what I am good at and that’s why I went back in the end.
Me and most of the guys from our housing estate, most of the guys from the same street - the Byrnes and Big Stevie Byrne and others - we all started back then because of the Irish championships coming to Woodbrook.
“We realised there were caddies going around travelling. We used to do pro-ams around Ireland and just progressed. When I started it was only a working holiday.
“I just wanted to travel around for a year and before the end of the year I actually clicked on what I was doing and realised I was making good money at it and halfway through the year it just clicked and I realised I was becoming good at it and job offers started coming in.”
Tactically, Clarke and Mulrooney hardly put a foot wrong all week and made the best of the breaks that came their way.
“We knew he had to keep out of the bunkers,” Mulrooney said. “We knew he didn’t have to go out and win it. He just had to play clever. Smart. And he did. We did what we had to do. We put it in the right places. We stayed out of the bunkers. I think we were in only one in the final round and that was it.”
Having missed several short putts early in the third round, Clarke faced a tricky par putt on the opening green on Sunday that proved crucial to his title chances.
“He had a difficult putt from 50 feet, it was downwind, down over a slope. And he hit a good putt but the green played a lot slower than it looked. I was surprised that it pulled up so quick and it pulled up about 13 feet short of the hole and he left himself a tricky downhill left to right putt, downwind.
“And the thing is he hit the ball the best ball-striking round I have ever seen in my life on Saturday, but he couldn’t get the ball in the hole. And that was the only time this week he wasn’t getting the ball in the hole. So he was left with a tough putt and the minute it went in I said, that’s exactly what you needed. That was crucial.
He knew he could hole the tough putts and it set the tone for the day. He got over yesterday and he knew if that one went in more could go in and it really set his mind right.”