Darren Clarke would insist he’s not a vain man but he was horrified that his svelte new-look had Twitter wags comparing him to former "Stars in Their Eyes" TV host Matthew Kelly, famous for his white stubbled chin as contestants impersonated showbiz stars for mass TV.
“Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Matthew Kelly,” would have been Clarke’s opening line according to the Twitterarirti — “I didn’t like that comparison at all!”
Given the multiple faces the 46-year-old Dungannon man has shown the world over the last 23 years, he’d be equally at home on “What’s My Line” where Eamonn Andrews would be asking “Could the real Darren Clarke please stand up.”
Few golfers have shown as many personas to the world as Clarke — genial and fun-loving one moment, laughing and smiling with cigar in hand as the people’s favourite, only to be transformed into a walking volcano for the waiting press, a brooding presence whose mood varied depending on his score.
So who’s he real Darren Clarke?
The bleach blonde amateur in the two-tone golf shoes? The cigar-chomping, beer drinking lad with the gut, beloved of the lads down at the pub? The widower, the hard-worker or the hothead? Or the thin, white-haired Duke of our TV screens during the recent Ryder Cup?
Speaking at “An Audience with Darren Clarke” at The K Club’s Smurfit Course last Friday — a marketing vehicle for the “Educogym” fitness system that has transformed him physically in less than a year — he admitted to interviewer Shane O’Donoghue that his larger his life persona began as a teenager’s desire to stand out from the crowd and cover up some insecurities.
“Why would you want to be the same, run of the mill as everybody else?” he said of his desire to differentiate himself from the other amateurs in his day by dyeing his hair blonde and sporting flashy golf shoes that matched his equally brash golf game.
“If you want to be different you have to have a little bit of …. Is arrogance the wrong word? Maybe it is arrogance. But you have got to feel as if you are a little bit different.”
Asked if he was supremely confident as a teenager or if it had all been an act, he said: “Of course, it is all a bit of an act. Confidence comes and confidence goes. But do you want to show your weakness or portray something different? It is the same in any walk of life.
“You want to be somebody to look up to, no matter what you do. And if you look better and you stand out a little bit more, then everybody is going to look up to you, whether it is right or wrong, we shall see.”
Clarke admitted that in golf, his aggressive philosophy was “live by the sword, die by the sword” and he might have won more had he been more clever.
His off-course decisions have also come at a price.
He was once bosom buddies with Paul McGinley until the race for the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy, described by outgoing European Tour CEO George O’Grady as “unseemly”, drove an already damaged friendship onto the rocks.
His image as just one of the boys, which has made him the darling of US golf fans and had them, by his own admission, “throwing beers at me, throwing cigars at me” has been blown out of the water since he met Educogym founder Jamie Myerscough at a charity Pro-Am 12 months ago and set about transforming his body.
Weighing in at more than 18 stone at his heaviest, Clarke shed almost 50lbs in 13 weeks last winter going from a 42 to a 32 inch waist through a regime of no-sugar, weightlifting and what he admits was “OCD” driven determination.
He is now almost unrecognisable, prompting those Matthew Kelly jibes from viewers who didn’t get to study him up close until he sat in the pundit’s chair during the Ryder Cup for Sky Sports and US TV.
Fast forward just over a month and he’s considered by European Tour insiders as a virtually certainty to be named 2016 Ryder Cup captain by a five-man committee, which will include McGinley, early next year.
Whether political astuteness or simple common sense has also transformed him into a McGinley fan remains to be seen but his insistence on stage on Friday that the Dubliner will be the first person he rings for advice if he gets the Ryder Cup captaincy certainly struck a chord and gives a whole new meaning to the term Operation Transformation.
“If I was fortunate enough to be given the job, Paul would be my first port of call,” Clarke insisted. “I think every European Ryder Cup captain, it has meant so much to them that all they want to do is help their successor.”
Asked to elaborate after the show, he smiled and said: “He’d be the first phone call, why wouldn’t he be?”
There are many reasons why it would be an awkward call considering they have no relationship bar a nodding acquaintance these days. Clarke sent McGinley a letter in 2011 offering his support for the 2014 captaincy but later changed his mind and put himself forward for the role.
He withdrew when it became clear that he might be lack support from the players and committee members and when Tom Watson was named as the USA captain, Clarke appeared to suggest (without naming names) that the 2010 captain Colin Montgomerie should also be considered.
“Whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Watson needs a huge presence,” Clarke said, ending whatever remained of his friendship with McGinley.
On Friday, just an hour or so after McGinley had hosted an outing for his sponsors Allianz on the opposite side of the River Liffey at the Palmer Course, Clarke tried to suggest that the idea he was anti-McGinley was a media driven misconception.
“That was a very, very tough period because Paul, first and foremost was an incredible captain,” he said of the controversy.
“He got everything dead right. The only thing that Paul possibly got wrong was Poults and Stephen Gallacher not working out for him. But he did everything unbelievably well.
“At the time everything was coming up (in the captaincy race), I was perceived as going completely against Paul, which was not the case. Somebody got the idea of what was going on, they ran with it.
“I was never given the opportunity to state my cause and I am not going to get into it now.
“We still speak but we were strained. But at the end of the day, I have nothing but a huge amount of respect for Paul and always will do.”
Asked to explain exactly whathappened and to clear up the confusion over his real stance on McGinley during that captaincy campaign, Clarke refused.
“There is no point in dragging up anything that has gone on in the past because Paul has done such a fantastic job,” he insisted. “There is no point in going anywhere backwards. End of.”
If all goes to plan and Clarke — who has been publicly backed by Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood — is preferred to Miguel Angel Jimenez for the 2016 captaincy, he knows he must build the template refined by McGinley.
“Brilliant. Everything he did was wonderful. Paul had his plans of what he wanted to do and had it down to the fine tee,” he said.
Clarke also refuses to comment on the disastrous American aftermath of the defeat that began with Phil Mickelson’s public humiliation of Tom Watson, leading to the eventual resignation of PGA of American president Ted Bishop and the creation of a “Task Force” to stop Europe winning their ninth Ryder Cup in 11 editions at Hazeltine.
Asked if the Americans, in reality, had simply been guilty of the cardinal sin of disrespecting or underestimating the enemy, Clarke could not disagree.
“Of course,” he said. “They were up against a really good team.”
As for the fallout that has rocked the US Ryder Cup set-up, he was reluctant to comment but simply added that the back-biting and soul-searching was a good sign for Europe.
“It’s great to see it means so much to them,” he said. “They were up against a very strong, well organised, well captained team.”
Filling McGinley’s shoes, will make losing 50lbs look easy. But Clarke, never a man to shirk a challenge, is up for the job.
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