He took his time, but he sure chose his moment.
Darren Clarke capped a professional golfing career of more than twenty years in the most majestic way last Sunday when he captured the British Open and its coveted Claret Jug.
It would be hard to name a more popular champion than the Dungannon man, who has long been a fan favorite because of his friendly manner, his evident big heart and, sadly, the personal tragedy that he bore so bravely when he lost his wife, Heather, to breast cancer.
While Clarke’s inclination is to have a post-victory good time – and he reminded one and all of it after his Sandwich triumph – it has to be noted that here is a man who is truly dedicated to his craft. There is little room for accidental victory, even in golf, once you get into your forties. Clarke is 42 and, who knows, may not even be at the pinnacle of his career.
His win continues a most extraordinary run for Irish golf that began with Padraig Harrington’s British Open win in 2007. After having only one major to ponder – Fred Daly’s 1947 British Open success – Irish golf has notched up six majors in the last four years and who would dare say that there are not more on the way.
Sure, Harrington’s game has fallen off in recent times but he still harbors the ability to be in contention just about any time he tees up. Graeme McDowell, like Harrington, failed to make the cut at Sandwich, but it would be a foolish pundit who would write him off anytime soon.
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And as for Rory McIlroy? He has had his ups and downs, but he has many years ahead of him to accumulate the ups. In age terms he is Darren Clarke in 1991!
The success of Clarke, McDowell and McIlroy has been attracting a particular kind of worldwide media attention. Because they hail from Northern Ireland, the trio has been generating the kind of headlines that run counter to those of the Troubles variety.
This is to the good. Add Harrington into the mix and you have the broader story of extraordinary international sporting success sourced on an island that is a world class golfing nation, but has only lately become a world beater.
The combination is a most potent one and has been embraced in recent days by Irish tourism chiefs who were already putting together a global advertising plan based on Irish major wins to date.
Darren Clarke’s win has this particular cup flowing over.
As with McIlroy, Harrington and McDowell, Clarke is committed to playing the Irish Open in Killarney next week.
As there once was a big three in golf – Nicklaus, Palmer and Player – there is now an Irish big four. The fact that all will be playing in Ireland’s very own open, and that tournament presently lacks a sponsor, is somewhat extraordinary. But, as we know, the state of the island’s economy doesn’t quite match the personal economies of the island’s major-winning golfers.
As such, they bear a burden on their shoulders on behalf of the game they play, and the island where they learned to play it.
Golf has never quite stood out as the kind of unifying force that, for example, rugby has been on the island though, like rugby and several other sports, it is a borderless game with a single governing body, the Golfing Union of Ireland, running things in all 32 counties.
With this in mind it would be interesting to consider future Irish opens, presumably with a sponsor on board, being played on courses regardless of county.
There is a push on to attract the British Open to Royal Portrush in County Antrim where it was actually played back in 1951. The initial response from the governing body of British golf, the Royal and Ancient, has not been overly encouraging. The view is that Portrush might not be big enough to accommodate a tournament the size of today’s British Open.
Well, why not play the Irish Open at Portrush? It would be a fitting affirmation to the world that when it comes to their sporting heroes at least, the people of Ireland truly cheer as one.