If you’ve read our site for a while you probably know that Darren Clarke is my guy. Just as the Boston Bruins are my hockey team and the San Diego Chargers are my football team, Clarke has been my favorite golfer since 2001. So why Darren Clarke?
I was fortunate to attend my first Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001. It was the last time that Darren had a real shot at winning the Open and he ended up finishing T3. I followed him around for a lot of Saturday… he was one of the guys in contention so I figured I’d avoid the Tiger crowd and watch this guy from Northern Ireland. After about 16 or so holes I left his group and went to watch some of the guys on the range. I don’t remember the exact circumstances but he had some issues on the 18th… I think he missed a really short putt to tie for the lead going into Sunday. After signing his card, he stormed onto the range with his coach (I think it was Butch Harmon) and agent chasing him. He wound up and booted two big buckets of range balls. The balls went everywhere and the poor range attendants eventually cleaned everything up. Darren sat down in a chair and couldn’t be bothered by his coach and agent. He just sat in his chair and sulked (almost pouted) for about 5 minutes. I looked over at the rest of the fans in the grandstand and no one even batted an eye at what had just transpired. The locals that watched Clarke on a regular basis knew that what we had all just witnessed was simply Darren being Darren. After cooling down at bit, Clarke went on to have a really good session at the range (the guy can really pound it) and then took time to talk to fans and sign some autographs. The guy that had just blown up a couple of range baskets with a swift kick was now laughing and joking with fans. Darren Clarke had won me over.
I kept a close eye on his game after that. I watched him smoke cigars during rounds and read about his partying lifestyle. I cheered for Europe at the Ryder Cup and pulled for him in all of the Majors. I made a point of watching the European Tour coverage on the Golf Channel despite the 7-10 hour time change. I felt his pain after the loss of his wife and was amazed at what he was able to do at the Ryder Cup a few months later. I cringed at his now famous shank at the PGA Championship (I even saw someone online give him the nickname SirShanksAlot. Sorry man… that’s taken…).
He was a fun guy to cheer for… but just like my two other sports favorites… he couldn’t win the big one. I even went back to see another Open in 2008… only to have Darren fail to qualify for the event.
My sports fan calendar got pretty predictable. I got used to the Chargers underachieving in January, the Bruins choking in the spring and then Darren Clarke failing to win the Open Championship. I knew that it was reasonable to assume that the Chargers and Bruins would win a championship at some point in my lifetime but the sun was starting to set on Darren at the Open. Just qualifying for the tournament was becoming a bit of a challenge for him. Oh well… maybe he could pull off the Senior Open one day.
My luck changed this year. The Boston Bruins finally decided to get it together and won their first Stanley Cup since 1972. I joked that it was the first leg of my sports fan trifecta.
And then it happened. “Clarke, D” made an appearance on the leaderboard at the Open. I prepared myself for the usual crash and burn on Saturday but it didn’t happen. I waited for him to develop a serious case of the yips on the first few holes on Sunday… but they didn’t materialize. I envisioned Phil wrestling away the lead and leaving Darren in the dust… but Phil and the rest of the challengers started to fall off. As he slowly made his way through the first 9, I started to get the feeling… the same feeling I got when the Bruins started to pull away in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was in the bag… and sure enough… he raised the Claret Jug a few hours later.
As much as being a passionate sports fan can hurt, it’s these rare instances that make the whole journey worthwhile.
High fives Darren… and thanks for contributing to my sports fan scorecard. There’s only one item left.
No pressure Chargers…