Clarke resumes battle of the bulge - but for how long?

Clarke resumes battle of the bulge - but for how long?
  A slimline Darren Clarke tees off in practice in Durban this week. Picture © Volvo In Golf

A slimline Darren Clarke tees off in practice in Durban this week. Picture © Volvo In Golf

Darren Clarke has shed more than 40 lbs according to reports from the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban.
A new fitness regime with Dublin-based Jamie Myerscough is the cause but if past efforts are anything to go by, we can't help wondering how long Big D will remain on the low sugar, low fat regime.

  Darren Clarke tees off in the Volvo Golf Champions Pro-Am.

Darren Clarke tees off in the Volvo Golf Champions Pro-Am.

When he beat Tiger Woods in the final of the 2000 WGC-Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship at La Costa Resort and Spa, the loser left a note in his locker:. “Enjoy it, you fat f***!”

His Guinness fuelled waistline was an easy hook for audiences keen to buy into the 'broth of a boy' image that sells so well. But it didn't help much at the start of the Tiger Woods era, especially in physically demanding conditions.

In the rain-sodden 2003 Masters, Clarke raced out of the blocks with a 66 that gave him a three-stroke lead over Ricky Barnes and Sergio Garcia.

He didn't complete his 66 until Friday and forced to head straight back out, he added rounds of 76, 78 and 74 to end up a tired 28th, 13 strokes adrift of winner Mike Weir.

It was a wake up call for the Ulsterman, who vowed to go on a fitness drive straight away and won that year's WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone.

"I'm pretty strong now," he said in Akron more than a decade ago. "I don't need to do that much. I've just got to lose a little bit of weight basically and get myself a little bit fitter so maybe coming down the stretch I won't make mistakes because of not being out of shape and not mentally alert and sharp as I should be."

When he returned to Augusta in 2004, he was fitter, lighter and determined that whatever the course threw at him, he would not be beaten by fatigue.

  Darren Clarke as he was nearly 12 months ago in Abu Dhabi. Picture: Fran Caffrey /  www.golffile.ie

Darren Clarke as he was nearly 12 months ago in Abu Dhabi. Picture: Fran Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

"Not an excuse for the next three rounds after my first round last year, but something I came up with at the end of it," he said at the time. "Hopefully I'll be in better shape. If I can shoot 66 on Thursday, I'll be very pleased, to be able to cope with the hills.

"I've been in the gym six days a week, two hours a day, basically. No beer. I'm very careful about what I'm eating. That's basically what I've done. I haven't embraced [fitness] for about 17 years. So took me a while to get around to it. I thought I could get by with what I had. 

"But I think if you take a look at all of the guys on the top of the world ranking, they are all very fit, and that is something that eventually got into my head. It takes a lot to push me sometimes, and this was reality, something that I had to do to try and improve."

Still, he was wary of losing too much weight and, as a consequence, altering the way he swung the club.

"I have found that out, yes," he said of the dangers of going too far and losing too much weight. "I think I am okay where I'm at at the moment, and hopefully this is where I plan to stay, at the size where I am at the minute. But a few people have gone too far and it has had an effect on their game. I think some of my play early this year has been because of that change in shape a little bit and trying to adapt my swing to it, but I'm starting to feel more comfortable again.

"Butch has been fantastic. I was with him in Vegas earlier in the year, and we worked on a few different things. But he was one of the main guys that kept on in my ear all the time, you have to lose weight and get in better shape and stuff. He's pleased with the work I've done and working very hard at the moment."

Asked what difference the weight loss had made, he said: "A bit of everything. Balance is one, obviously because there isn't as much. There isn't three cases of beer in front of me when I'm swinging . But obviously balance and feel have just changed.

"Yes, I was [surprised about the scale of the change]. I've given all my old clothes away, so I have none to go back to. I have to stay the same size as I am (Laughter)."

Clarke's weight loss drive didn't last for long and when he won the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George's he joked that his plan to go to Weight Watchers could safely be put on hold for a few days so he could celebrate.

     Darren Clarke en route to victory in the final round of the 2011 Open Championship. Picture Credit / Phil Inglis /  www.golffile.ie

 Darren Clarke en route to victory in the final round of the 2011 Open Championship. Picture Credit / Phil Inglis / www.golffile.ie

Asked at the hungover Monday morning press conference how much weight he planned to lose, Clarke said: No idea, we'll see. I'll probably get bored with it in a week and give up. (Laughter.) I think this could probably be a bad week for me to try and start. I think every time there's five points in a pint of Guinness, I think it's a real bad week for me to start. With Chubby doing it, I can't get away from listening about him doing it."

He eventually got round to his fitness at the end of 2011, working hard with personal trainer Jonny Bloomfield in an attempt to extend his career into his late forties.

Six months later and the trainer had gone - the travelling proved too much - and the then 43-year Clarke, was back to his old weight as he gave an interview before his defence of The Open title.

He’d still do some fitness work, he said - “light bits to keep ticking over. I’m not going to be Westwood."

But he also insisted that he’d always punched better in the heavyweight division.

“People say yes you should be fitter, you should be in better shape, yes it’s supposed to be better for you mentally and all of that sort of crap,” Clarke explained. “But if I look back at some of my best golf, I’ve always been a little bit on the big side. Would I like to be on the lighter side and play my best? Of course I would. But it hasn’t really worked for me before.”

Set to play on both the European Tour and the US PGA Tour this year, Clarke told reporters in South Africa: "I was getting too big and too tired. I actually played nicely at the Dunhill but made mistakes in the final five holes. It was the same old thing. That's what I've been doing for a few years.

"There have been a few poor swings or whatever but, obviously, a certain degree of that would point towards fatigue, so a lot of what I've been doing was just to get me stronger and fitter."

How long the new fitness regime remains in place remains to be seen but Clarke's battle of the bulge is part of his everyman charm. At the age of 45, he's far to young to just fade away.