Darren Clarke performed his first public duties as Europe's latest Ryder Cup captain at a hotel in London Heathrow on Monday. As a friend remarked, it's a little disconcerting to see emails telling you there ware 554 days to go before Clarke and his team departs Heathrow to lead Europe’s defence against the USA at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.
Commercial reality is one thing but with Paul McGinley suggesting that the European Tour only scratched the surface at Gleneagles, it would appear that a grim, even more commercial future awaits us. Be that as it may, Clarke will provide millions of column inches over the next 600+ days.
While this is about golf - and it's usually magnificent — the Ryder Cup presents both the European Tour and the PGA of America with a perfect opportunity to market themselves.
It's also a chance for the captains to add another few million to their bank accounts and Clarke is no different to McGinley in that regard, even if he is facing an away 'market.'
In fairness to Clarke, there is a lot more going on that meets the eye. Party boy? There was as time he'd party with the best of them but he always worked hard. Harder than most.
In some ways, he's the ultimate talent who underachieved only to have it all work out fine in the end. Take the majors. He was always destined to win at least one or two. The Claret Jug was considered a certainty and he was always strong in America.
After all, he finished in the Top 10 on his Masters debut, which is something Rory McIlroy never managed. Bar the horrific, tragic death of his first wife, Heather, from breast cancer at the age of 39, he's led a charmed existence and has two fine sons and found the perfect life partner in his second wife, Alison.
He won his major at the age of 42 when almost everyone had given up all hope. Now the man who'll readily admit that his temperament has cost him more than a few friends must try to consign that image to history with mature leadership in Minnesota.
Anyone who's ever met Clarke's sons would agree that the Dungannon done a magnificent job as a father. In that sense, it will be fascinating to see if he can become as successful a father figure in a Ryder Cup captain's blazer and lead Europe to an unprecedented fourth successive win.
He's certainly nobody's fool, nor does he suffer them gladly. When criticised by Tony Jacklin for allegedly staying in his "comfort zone" and choosing Europe over the PGA a dozen years ago, he didn't hold back in a 2002 interview with Brian Viner.
"That was a complete load of bollocks," he said before the Open at Muirfield. "My work-rate is very, very high. I work as hard if not harder than anybody. I can accept criticism, but not from somebody who doesn't know. The European Tour has changed a lot since he [Jacklin] was playing. Yes, it's America where the majority of the best players are, but I can become good enough playing in Europe, and this is where my family are. I'm 32. If I was 22 I might go to America. But Tyrone is going to school full-time in England, Conor will be too, so I'm happy playing nine or 10 times a year in America. The comfort zone is not where I am at all."
Clarke's charitable fundraising for the victims of the Omagh bombing and his Darren Clarke Foundation earned him an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster in 2002, an OBE from Buckingham Palace in 2012.
For a man who's upset countless people over the years, he gave the most diplomatic and intelligent Open Championship acceptance speech .
“It’s been a long and bumpy road, I have had some good things happen to me and some bad things, but I’ve had so much support from an awful lot of people," he said. “I’d like to thank my mum and dad, my whole family, and Alison, my fiancée, for all their never-ending support. Some of you may know there’s someone up there watching as well. To everybody, thank you very much.”
That 2002 Viner interview contained a couple of good quotes. One was from his manager, Chubby Chandler, on his client's maturity. The other was from Clarke himself.
"He has matured," Chandler said. "He is growing up. Darren was never the quickest of learners but he's always had that wonderful flair."
As for Clarke on himself, he once said: "I'm like someone who built a fire but forgot to put a chimney in. I need a way to let the smoke out or I get very frustrated... I want to win. I want to win tournaments."
Judging by the reports from the colleagues who made the trip to Heathrow, Clarke played a blinder with the media.
After all, he's been the darling of the tabloids since he started — beer driving, fast car driving, cigar-smoking, trike-crashing Darren. The human tragedy that lay behind his 2006 Ryder Cup heroics simply made him a housewives' favourite too, moving from the back pages to the front.
As a golfer, he's always been respected. As the winner of a major and two WGCS (including a 36-hole matchplay mauling of the seemingly invincible Tiger Woods of 2000) and the veteran of six Ryder Cups as a player, he is more than qualified for the job.
Getting the players on his side is now his goal and he's not short of advice, as the Daily Mail's Derek Lawrenson reported:
"Sam once said to me that playing in the Ryder Cup is like having your first child, that you really can’t describe it until you’ve gone through it, and that’s always stuck with me,’ he said. ‘I was fortunate enough to experience the pressure of contending for a major and coming through to win, but for me the pressure of the Ryder Cup was far greater. And I will be a player-friendly captain. Some might think I’m too close to the players but I will not shirk my responsibilities."
According to his BBC Five Live interview, picked up by PA, he's tipping Rory McIlroy to win the Masters. if it doesn't happen this year, it will happen next year or the year after. The Career Grand Slam, he says in a BBC TV interview, is a certainty for McIlroy as some stage.
As for his captaincy style, he gave little away to Sirius Xm's Matt Adams by saying he'd put his spin on Paul McGinley's foundations and make the role his own.
Still, he couldn't resist throwing the tabloids a bone. When there was talk of motivational speakers — Sir Alex Ferguson did the job for Paul McGinley at Gleneagles — lifelong Liverpool fan Clarke was asked if he'd give Stevie Gerrard a call considerig he'd be playing for the LA Galaxy by then.
"After yesterday, what a time to ask me that!" he said in reference to Gerrard's sending off against United on Sunday.
Karl MacGinty reported the rest of that exchange in an early internet story for the Irish Independent.
As for any changes he might make to the Ryder Cup format, Derek Lawrenson in the Daily Mail points out that Clarke he hinted that he might reduced the captain's picks from three to two as the man in 10th in the rankings might deserve a place in the team.
All in all, it was an stirring opening day's work for Clarke, even if the start of what will be the honour a lifetime is still 554 days away.