Darren Clarke might be a fearsome-looking figure on tour but the European Ryder Cup captain is a wise old owl in terms of developing new players.
And his Darren Clarke Foundation weekend is crucial when it comes to taking our future stars under his wing and telling them what it takes to make it on tour. The cream of the crop gathered at Portmarnock GC last weekend to meet, play and chat with the 2011 Open champion.
And while the Darren Clarke Foundation also carries out many important charitable functions by raising much needed funds for a host of causes related to cancer, its primary goal is to help Ireland produce more top golfers.
While Clarke is at the top of the tree alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry, few young Irish players are making the breakthrough. So now Clarke is keen to make sure they have all the information they need so that the standards required come as no surprise when they eventually turn pro.
“Irish golf has been at a pretty high level for some time,” Clarke says reeling of the names from McIlroy to Lowry and recalling the five Walker Cup representatives who teed it up at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
“The perception is that we are on a huge run but there are very few kids coming through getting their card these days. They are all fantastic players but it is not an easy job and combined with that fact, the standard on tour is going up and up.
“Whenever the kids do ask me, I tell them first and foremost it is hard. I am not all sweetness and light. Unless you have the dedication, I tell them you are going to struggle and you will be beating your head against a brick wall.
“That’s what they don’t realise. What they don’t get is the dedication you need (to succeed). When it is winter, I will be out in 40mph winds and pissing down rain in Portrush hitting balls. Even at his stage, I am still doing it — I don’t know why, but I am. Some of them can’t grasp how much work they need to do to get where they want to go to.”
Clarke’s image will forever be linked with the Ferraris and big cigars, even though he no longer drives the famed Italian car and has become a dedicated fitness nut.
“I have worked harder than most people would ever imagine to actually get where I am,” he says of the perception that it has all come easy to a player who was, and still is, ultra talented.
“It is a very tough job. If you don’t put the time in, if you don’t put the work in, you are not going to get there.
“And in saying that, if you put the time in or the work in. there is no guarantee of success either.”
Since 2006 and the death of his wife Heather from breast cancer, the Darren Clarke Foundation has concentrated on cancer research and awareness and created the Heather Clarke Memorial Scholarship at Queens.
A donation of €50,000 helped the Irish Cancer Society build a Daffodil Centre in the Letterkenny General Hospital — an advice pod for friends, relatives and sufferers of cancer.
Making the kids aware of the dangers of skin cancer is another of the many functions carried out by the foundation’s collaboration with the Irish Cancer Society and all these initiatives require major fundraising.
Clarke will host a fundraiser for his Foundation at Portmarnock on the Monday after the Irish Open next year.
In the meantime, he and his collaborators work to provide bursaries and give advice so that the young guns are aware of the challenges they might face in the big bad world of professional golf.
Set up in 2002, the Foundation has seen such players are McIlroy, Paul Dunne, Lowry, Lisa and Leona Maguire and Gavin Moynihan enjoy a weekend of fun, chat and competition as an end-of-season reward and motivating factor for the winter. The foundation gathers together the top 18 boys and girls in Ireland. But while they are all talented, Clarke knows that’s not always enough.
Asked the common denominator between himself, McIlroy, Harrington, McDowell and Lowry, Clarke said: “Talent.”
“There has to be the talent. And we all have different levels of talent but we have all maximised it or used it. There is nobody on tour who is not a quality ball striker. They are all very good players. Some people will make it and some people won’t and it is a question of who adapts and gets the most out of their talent.”
Clarke points to Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter, who went out of his way and got into the Hong Kong Open at the last minute so he could fulfil his 13-event European Tour commitment and be eligible for Ryder Cup selection.
While Clarke strikes the ball better than the Englishman, he admitted: “Poults is gifted, or much more talented than me, in lots of other areas.
“He’s a strong mentally as anyone in the world. That’s what Poults is. Everybody on Tour has a different strength.
“And then you have someone like Rory who has strengths everywhere. What I am saying is that everyone is gifted in different ways. Jordan Spieth in gifted on the putting green. Jason Day is gifted in that he hits it a long way and when he gets hot he gets confident.
“Rory is gifted with the fact he can just stand there and flush it all the time. Rickie (Fowler) is another flusher as well. So you the to maximise your talent to the best of your ability. Accept what you have got and make the most of it.”
Alan Dunbar is at Desert Springs in Spain this week seeking a career oasis to realise his great potential.
The former British Amateur champ and Walker Cup player tees it up in the Europro Tour’s Matchroom Sport Tour Championship needing to finish at least fourth to make the top five in the final money list that earn automatic promotion to the Challenge Tour. Ranked ninth with £15,554 from his 11 starts, Dunbar is joined in Spain by Headfort’s Brian Casey, who will almost certainly need top two to make the jump.
Meanwhile, Cavan’s World No 1 Leona Maguire continued her hot start to the season with a share of fourth to help Duke women’s golf team win the 2015 Landfall Tradition team title. The Blue Devils won by 11 strokes on Landfall’s Dye Course.
Amateur golfers will have the option to accept prize money at professional events from January 2016 onwards if the winnings are donated to a pre-approved charity.
The move is part of changes and revisions to the rules of golf, which will take effect at the start of next year.
In a joint announcement, the Royal & Ancient and US Golf Association have relaxed penalties for some cases of inputting the wrong score for a hole, as well as for the use of “artificial devices and unusual equipment”.
The ruling for amateurs means a situation mirroring The Open in 2015, where then-amateur Paul Dunne’s heroics meant he had a chance of landing a trophy but not the fortune in prize money, could allow winnings to go to approved and worthy causes.
Meanwhile, anchoring the golf club, commonly seen with the use of “belly putters”, will be banned, a move that has been given worldwide attention since 2013. Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Webb Simpson have won majors in recent years using the technique but it will now lead to a two-shot penalty, or loss of hole in match play.
There will no longer be a penalty if the ball, after it has been ‘addressed’, moves through no action from the player.
From next year, golfers who were otherwise unaware of any penalties will not be disqualified from the tournament for entering the wrong score, though they will incur the relevant penalty and an additional two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect card.
Maynooth University’s punching power was in evidence last week with the Irish Senior Cup holders fielding teams in two top level events, emerging with a win and a top-six finish.
The win came in the inaugural Jerry Murray/Notre Dame Invitational at Waterville Golf Links where Maynooth’s James Sugrue was the individual winner. The Kildare side finished 12 strokes ahead of Texas A&M at the Kerry links with UNC Wilmington a further 16 strokes behind in third.
Rosslare native Sugrue shot a final 73 to capture the individual title by three strokes from team-mate Eugene Smith on three over par 219. Connor Black (78-78-72) was the best of the visitors alongside his Texas A&M’s teammate Ben Crancer (72-81-75) in third and fourth respectively on 12 over par 228 with Notre Dame’s Miguel Delgado (75-79-76) fifth on 230. The title Maynooth really wanted was the European Men’s Club Trophy, which was held at Minthis Hills Golf Club in Cyprus.
Maynooth finished sixth thanks to a four under par final day aggregate as Racing Club de France from Paris finished two strokes ahead of Italy’s Royal Park I Roviri on nine under.
In the individual standings, Ilari Saulo of Finland won by eight strokes on 13 under par 200 from Frederic Lacroix of France. Galway native Ronan Mullarney (70, 74, 71) was the leading Irish player in 13th on two over with Clara’s Alan Lowry (71, 81, 68) tied 22nd on seven over and Dubliner Jack Walsh (79, 75, 70) 37th on 11 over.
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