Watching the emotion of Darren Clarke’s British Open win Sunday, it brought back memories of when Clarke was at the Travelers Championship in 2007 — just 10 months after his wife had passed away from breast cancer — and gave a thankful sports columnist a few minutes of his time.
Here’s that story…
Coping day to day, Clarke hopes for better times
Thursday, June 21, 2007
CROMWELL – He tugged his visor down over his eyes and grabbed the pack of smokes from his golf bag. Darren Clarke found the lighter in his pocket, lit the cigarette and took a deep drag. As he blew out the smoke, Clarke plopped himself on the steps leading down to the putting green. Above him was a cloudless blue sky. Below was a sea of rich, green grass. Hopefully, Clarke saw both. He took one last puff and flipped what was left of the cigarette over the hedge. A couple of minutes later, Clarke lit up another one.
His caddy, Casey Kerr, sat down beside him on the steps. Kerr talked. Clarke smoked. It was time to decompress. Put the round behind and put reality back in front. Clarke dug a cell phone out of his pocket and made a call as Kerr put his arm around Clarke ‘s shoulders and gave him a friendly squeeze. His two boys, Tyrone and Conor, are Clarke ‘s priority now. Tyrone is 9, Conor 6. Together, they are learning how to live without their mother. Clarke, however, has to deal with something even harder.
Learning how to live without his wife and his partner.
Heather Clarke was just 39 when she passed away from a two-year battle with breast cancer last August. It has been a difficult and emotional 10 months for Darren, Tyrone and Conor. Right now, it’s not surprising that the bad days far outnumber the good. But Clarke knows the days – like his golf game – will someday get better. He just doesn’t know when.
“My boys are more important than anything else. I’ve got to make sure that they’re OK,” he said, pausing for a moment to chat after his 2-over 72 in the Travelers Championship on Thursday. “But it’s good to be back out playing again. I played pretty nice today. I know I shot 2-over, but it didn’t feel like it at all. A lot of putts, though, 33 putts, and you can’t really afford to do that.”
It was just Clarke ‘s sixth competitive round of the year and his sixth tournament. He tied for 33rd at the World Golf Championships in February before missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Masters and withdrawing from the Wachovia Championship and the Players Championship.
Clarke , who hails from Surrey, England, hasn’t played in the States since mid-May. But the fact that he felt comfortable here at the TPC at River Highlands was enough to bring him back across the pond and get him to think about the grind of tournament golf.
“I enjoyed the golf course the last time I was here (in 2005) and decided to come back again,” he said. “The course is even better now. The course is fantastic, I really enjoy playing it.”
Clarke wants to get back to enjoying golf. Life, though, seems to keep getting in the way. Tyrone broke his arm two weeks ago playing soccer and Clarke is recovering from a sore hamstring and an injured wrist from falling off his ATV. “I’m trying to play again … I’m not quite happy with the way I’m playing, but …you know,” he said, pausing. “At the moment, I’m taking it week by week.”
Perhaps the golf course is where Clarke can find some solace. Hopefully, the course is the place where he can find some peace. “It’s probably the best place for him, to be honest, get away from everything, hit some golf shots and get your mind right,” J.J. Henry said. “He’s just a first-class guy and a heck of a player.”
That was never so evident than in last fall’s Ryder Cup. Just a month after Heather’s passing, European captain Ian Woosnam made Clarke a captain’s pick and he responded by going 3-0-0. On Sunday in the singles final, Clarke defeated Zach Johnson 3 and 2, setting off a massive celebration that saw Clarke and Woosnam break down in tears and U.S. captain Tom Lehman and Tiger Woods give Clarke congratulatory hugs.
“I mean, it was almost hard to root against him,” said Henry, who was playing his Ryder Cup singles match against Paul McGinley. “As much as we wanted to beat him, it was hard to root against him with everything he’d been through. I was playing just in front of him and you could hear that roar all the way in England, let alone in Ireland.”
You would love for that roar to echo across the course here at the TPC this weekend. Like Henry said, you can’t help but root for the Englishman, who loves his beer, loves his smokes and loves life.
“If you want to have a pint of beer or smoke a cigar with him, he’s just a lot of fun to be with,” said Henry, who played a practice round with Clarke at the Masters in April. “It’s great to see him back out here. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through.”
“He seems to be doing all right,” added Carl Petterson, who played in Clarke ‘s group and shot a 5-under 65. “It has to be an unbelievable, tough thing to go through. I know he hasn’t been playing his best lately and you can’t expect him to. I’m sure he’ll be back.”
Clarke feels he will, too. He just doesn’t know when.
“We’re getting used to the routine in our lives again,” he said. “We’re just taking our time.”