Darren Clarke is hoping his happiness off the course can translate to success on it as he goes in search of a second Claret Jug in today’s opening round of The Open Championship at Hoylake.
The 2011 Open champion is staying trim, having shed nearly three stones and a wardrobe of clothes over the winter and considers himself fortunate to have been given a second chance at marital bliss with his bride of two years Alison following the death in 2005 of first wife Heather, mother of his sons Tyrone and Conor.
Now all that is missing is another shot at golfing greatness and, as far as Clarke, 45, is concerned, there is no better place than a links course to get his game in the right shape.
“My ball striking has been fine and whenever I get on a links, it’s a completely different format. You’ve got to use the ground and I’m comfortable doing that. Links turf is what I do, it’s where I practice all the time at home at Royal Portrush and it’s great to get back here again,” Clarke said. having received the Golf Foundation “Spirit of Golf” award for 2014 at Royal Liverpool.
“My game is okay. I just have to knock in a few putts and get a bit of momentum, and that's what has been missing all year. I haven't holed any putts at all and gained some momentum, and then I make a mistake and it’s a bogey or a double. That's been frustrating but, actually, with the way I'm swinging and hitting the ball, I’m quite pleased.”
Clarke may have missed the cut in 2006 when The Open last visited Hoylake but he remains a fan of the Royal Liverpool links where fellow Royal Portrush man Fred Daly won Ireland's first major at the 1947 Open.
“It’s good, it’s a flattish links off the tee, but then it’s very undulating around the greens. The greens, there’s lots of run-offs from them and for the most part they seem to be perched above you. It’s just (about) playing smart. The fairway bunkers are very penal, there’s always a premium on hitting fairways but if you hit into any bunkers around here it’s hit out sideways or backwards and then have the same tough sort of second shot you'd have if you had hit a good tee shot into the middle of the fairway.
“You’ve got to get it on the fairway and then go from there. Rough weather is what links courses are all about, the great links courses are the ones designed with bad weather in mind. They’re still playable if you know what you’re doing and maybe we will get a bit of bad weather this week.”
Before Clarke dropped 40 pounds in weight having submitted to a new fitness regime, playing a round of links golf in bad weather would have been a physical challenge but the Ulsterman with the 32-inch waist now feels fresh after a round.
“I am less tired, though I’d like to be hitting it a little bit further than I am. I’m enjoying it. I feel better. I feel stronger. It’s just something I chose to do because I was too big and too fat. I thought I’ve got to do something about it and I have. I’ve worked hard at it and the results are there... My wardrobe’s changed.”
Leaner, fitter and also happier, Clarke can now look back in a more positive light on the difficult times he went through during first wife Heather's battle with cancer, not least here at Hoylake in 06, his last tournament before taking time out to be with her.
“I look back at tough times in my life off the golf course with more fond memories than bad memories. I think if you ask anybody the same question, they’d respond in the same way as myself. As time goes by you look back with good memories not bad one.
“I count myself very fortunate because I’ve been very lucky to meet and marry Alison. She’s a wonderful lady and I’ve got a second chance with meeting Alison.
“That’s not taking away from Heather whatsoever. My kids are doing well. Of course they miss their Mum but they get on great with Alison and she gets on great with them, they love her to bits. I feel very fortunate.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved