A perspiration-soaked Clarke was near unrecognisable hitting balls on a makeshift practice range behind the Kings Park Stadium, home to Natal Sharks Super Rugby side, and across the road from Durban Country Club which hosts this week’s elite Volvo Champions event.
In meeting up with Clarke for a first time this season, he laughed off questions such as: “Where has the other half of you gone?” and “Excuse me. Have you seen Darren Clarke?”
Clarke’s weight loss regime kick started the day after finishing top-10 in September’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship when he hosted a corporate outing at the Rockmount Golf Club in Belfast.
“I hosted a golf day for the Duke of Abercorn that was a fundraiser for the Royal Irish Rangers and the Royal Irish Guards,” said Clarke.
“One of the Duke’s guests was a guy called Jamie Myerscough, who runs the Educogym in Dublin. I got speaking to Jamie on the way around the course and he said ‘right, I’ll help you’.
“So I started with Jamie and it’s a pretty short programme but I’m using very heavy weights, and obviously, my diet has changed.
“Most mornings I get onto Facetime and talk with Jamie in Dublin from my gym at home.
“Most people who lose weight, lose strength as well. But I’ve gone the other way, I’ve lost weight and become twice as strong.”
In fact, the trimmer-looking Clarke is also hitting the ball longer off the tee and is relishing his return to action this week.
“I could always play, whether I’m fat or thin but hopefully, I just may have more good weeks when I’m a little bit thinner. I wouldn’t say I’m thin but a few more good weeks competing at this size should be good because, despite this heat, I don’t feel fatigued. The good aspect this week is that we have four guaranteed rounds and while the swing is a little bit rusty, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
And while Clarke’s dropped off bags full of oversize clothing to the local Portrush charity shops, he’s kept a few precious items of apparel, including the shirt and trousers he wore more than two years ago to British Open championship victory.