Starting again at 45 is tough enough for a major winner like Darren Clarke. But it’s going to an even steeper climb for Cork’s John McHenry as he bids to qualify for the Champions Tour.
The former European Tour player, who turns 50 on March 14 next year, has work to do after opening with a two over par 74 in Regional Qualifying at Orange County Lodge in Winter Garden in Florida.
But life should be a lot easier for Clarke, without a win since he lifted the 2011 Open Championship, who has taken up his PGA Tour card for the first time since 2006.
Set to appear in his first event of the 2013-14 season at this week’s McGladrey Classic at Sea Island, Clarke believes it’s “never too late to start again.”
He will still play on the European Tour but with a home in the Bahamas and another base in Palm Beach Gardens, it will be easier for him to criss cross the US and commute from Portrush than to drag himself around Asia early in the season.
“I’ve almost had enough of the long hauls all over Asia and all that sort of stuff,” Clarke told the PGA Tour. “Not that it’s bad, but coming over here is certainly a lot easier for me from a scheduling point of view.
“The PGA TOUR is the biggest investor in the world. Europe is my home turf, but it’s a great opportunity to come over here and play…
“I just want to go out and enjoy myself. I’ve traveled all over the world for a long time and I’ve had a great time doing it. It’s almost like starting over.”
On keeping his card on both sides of the pond - a conundrum that has made headlines during the Race to Dubai Final Series - Clarke admits it’s not going to be easy.
“It will be difficult,” Clarke told the PGA Tour’s Brian Wacker. “But it is something I will try to do. I will see how I get on with it. But my first commitment is to the PGA TOUR, and I have to get my tournaments in on the TOUR since I became a member again.”
In addition to this week’s event, Clarke said he will play next week’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico. Clarke then plans to take the entire month of December off before returning at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, followed by the Northern Trust Open and the entire Florida swing.
[Apart from the 2011 Open Championship] Clarke has won just two other times on the PGA TOUR, in 2003 at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational (then the NEC Invitational) and the 2000 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
His best years on TOUR came a decade ago, when he racked up 14 top 10s between 2003 and 2005, including four third-place finishes and a runner-up.
But Clarke was limited to just 11 starts in 2006 because of the passing of his first wife, Heather, who succumbed to cancer that August.
He struggled the following year, making just four cuts in 10 starts with zero finishes in the top 25. It was the last year he made double-digit starts on the PGA TOUR and he spent the next handful of years playing mostly in Europe.
But he was happy to be back in the U.S. on Tuesday. Said Clarke: “Never too old to start again.”
McHenry and Clarke were both closely involved in Moyvalley Golf Resort in Co Kildare. The course was designed by Clarke and McHenry was director of golf there.
However, the project never took off and McHenry ended up taking the then owner to the Commerical Court over unpaid fees of more than €1m.