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Clarke Thrilled to Become 'Champion Golfer of the Year'
Darren Clarke proved to be, hands-down, the best player at this year's British Open. The 42-year-old carded rounds of 68-68-69-70 for a 5-under total of 275 that gave him a three-stroke win over Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
Despite bogeys on the final two holes at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England, the Northern Irishman had the championship well in hand. When his final putt dropped, Clarke raised his arms in exultation, finally winning the Open Championship for the first time in 20 attempts.
It was Clarke's first major title in 54 tries. He also became the third Northern Irishman to win the past six major championships, joining fellow Ulstermen Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach) and Rory McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open at Congressional). Not bad for a country with only 1.8 million inhabitants.
After accepting the Claret Jug with his newly engraved name on it, along with a check for $1,305,593, Clarke met with reporters and talked about what this week meant to him. Here's what the former rugby player and bartender told reporters.
As usual, Clarke evinced his usual charm and sense of humor during his victorious session with the media.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined by the 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke. How does it feel, Darren? (Applause.)
DARREN CLARKE: Pretty amazing right now, to tell you the truth. You know, it's been a dream since I've been a kid to win The Open, like any kid's dream is, and I'm able to do it, which just feels incredible, incredible right now.
Q. I have to say I didn't see this coming when I saw you duff your tee shot on 16 on Wednesday.
DARREN CLARKE: You never see a lot coming, never mind anything else (laughter.) I actually didn't duff it. That shows how little you know about the sport you cover. I cut it into the wind and I cut it a little bit too much and I came up short. But no, I've been playing lovely for a while. I got really, really frustrated on Sunday up at Inverness because I played really nice for the first two days and then played poorly on the Sunday, but came down here, knew I was hitting the ball well, knew it was obviously on links again, and I was really excited and looking forward to it. That being said, I still wasn't in the best of humor on Tuesday, but spent a bit of time as I told you earlier with Bob Rotella. My golf seems to - if I feel as if I'm putting better, my whole game seems to be better, and that's what happened to me this week. I didn't putt fantastic, but I was pretty solid.
Q. At what point today -- you got a couple of bounces that went your way, obviously.
DARREN CLARKE: I did, I did.
Q. But at what point did you start thinking to yourself this is my day?
DARREN CLARKE: You never really think that up until you're on the 18th green with a couple of shots ahead. You never know what's going to happen. I got a couple of good breaks that went my way. Yesterday I played as good as I could play from tee to green and I didn't really get anything out of it. Today I played not bad; I played okay. Got a couple of good breaks that went my way. Also at the same time hit lots of great putts today which burnt the edges and doesn't go in. So it sort of balanced out.
But there's times you can get a couple of good breaks but it could have easily just gone the other way, and that's the game, that's links golf and that's the way it is. I actually did not take anything for granted until it was on the back edge of the 18th green there. I've got enough shot -- 17 I was not going to make anything worse than bogey, you know, trying to play the last two holes pretty smart, and I hit a really good tee shot off the 18th tee right in the middle of the fairway. Excuse me for a little and I'll have a little sip.
Anyway, you can't take anything for granted. It was just one of those things where I was trying to be sensible. As I said yesterday, I'm going to go out and try and play my best, and my best today was enough to win.
Q. We know you're a pretty emotional character, how on earth did you manage to keep a lid on your emotions during the 18 holes? And again during and before the presentation?
DARREN CLARKE: I'm just older, just a little bit older and allegedly a little bit wiser. But I certainly have a few thoughts going through my head when I was walking onto the green on 18 because at that stage I could have four putts from there, and even I figured I could manage to get down in four from the edge of the green there. But the few thoughts, thinking about the past, and then again with the "Beeb" (BBC) doing interview and then making a speech, but you know, I can only be as normal as I am. So if I didn't feel a little bit emotional it wouldn't quite be right. I was but just about managed to cling onto it.
Q. You joked earlier in the week that you play better golf when you're carrying a bit of condition.
DARREN CLARKE: I like that. I'm going to use that myself.
Q. After this could you see yourself going on a diet?
DARREN CLARKE: I'm on Weight Watchers tomorrow morning. I'm at Chubby's (agent Chubby Chandler) apartment, so I'm going eat and drink as much as I want tonight and he's going to help me on it tomorrow morning.
Q. You're seriously going to go on Weight Watchers in the morning? Points, all that -
DARREN CLARKE: Yeah, all that sort of stuff. He might give me an extra day off if I'm nice to him tonight.
Q. How much are you planning to lose?
DARREN CLARKE: No idea, we'll see. I'll probably get bored with it in a week and give up. (Laughter.) I think this could probably be a bad week for me to try and start. I think every time there's five points in a pint of Guinness, I think it's a real bad week for me to start. With Chubby doing it, I can't get away from listening about him doing it.
Q. I think there are about 40,000 people here and I'm sure at least 39,000 of them wanted you to win. How much was the crowd at Sandwich a factor?
DARREN CLARKE: They were sensational for me all week. They really were. The support they have given me through the bad weather as well as the good weather. They were all out there roaring and shouting. It was just brilliant to have that amount of support. It's been a while since I've felt that amount of support. The fans could not have been any better for me this week. They really were. They've been a pleasure. They've been very, very kind to me.
Q. There were some idiot golf writers out there who wrote you off.
DARREN CLARKE: Hang on, let me just scratch my little - no, I'm trying to recollect your little line. "He's in his inexorable slide toward relevance." Is that what you said? Is that what you said? I've got the paper at home. I can show it to you if you don't believe me, "inexorable slide towards relevance." This is a mirage. Carry on, sorry.
Q. At any time in the last few years did you doubt yourself? Did you think you were possibly sliding into golfing relevance?
DARREN CLARKE: You know, bad times in golf are more frequent than the good times. You know, I've always been pretty hard on myself when I fail because I don't find it very easy to accept that. And there's times I've been completely and utterly fed up with the game. But friends and family and Chubby say, get out there and practice and keep going, keep going, keep going, and that's why I'm sitting here now.
Q. Are you able to share Bob's wise words now that you've won?
DARREN CLARKE: No. Second question?
Q. Second, can you put your finger on why Northern Ireland has had three major champions in 13 months?
DARREN CLARKE: I was waiting for that one, and I honestly can't -- I don't know. We're blessed to have obviously two fantastic players in Rory and G-Mac, and I've just come along -- the old guy coming along behind them. You know, we've just been lucky. We have fantastic golf courses, we have fantastic facilities, but to have three major champions from a little small place in a short period of time, it's just incredible. You know, it's fantastic, it's brilliant for home.
Q. Phil Mickelson is famous for his charges. When you saw on the board obviously that he was making that charge, did it just make you grit your teeth a little bit harder?
DARREN CLARKE: No, as I said to you yesterday, I can't control what anybody else does. I can only control what I do. It was wonderful last night that I got a text from -- I saw Rory, he was at Chubby's house, and then I got a text from him later on sort of reiterating the text that I had sent to him whenever he was going out to play at Congressional. And then I had a couple of really good messages, texts from Tiger. He was giving me a couple of bits of advice, which was brilliant. I replied to him and blah, blah, blah. But just getting little bits of advice and stuff like that, as well, made today even a little bit easier than what it otherwise might have been.
Q. What do you think is happening now in Portrush?
DARREN CLARKE: They're probably all getting pissed, I would imagine if you really want to know, which means they're drinking too much. They're probably all having a drink in Portrush. If they're not, I hope they are. But I'm sure -- they're having parties all the time, party for G-Mac (McDowell) at Portrush and party for Rory a couple of weeks ago, and I'm sure I'll have another one this week. They'd all just be very pleased. As I say, Northern Ireland is a very small place and it's all a very close-knit community and everyone is very pleased for our sporting guys that do well, and I'm pleased to join them.
Q. You've had these wonderful moments on the golf course and some difficult moments, and off the golf course wonderful moments and just the worst moments. When you look back, all worth it? And what's going through your heart and mind right now when you look back at this long journey you've had?
DARREN CLARKE: All worth it, most definitely. To sit here and talk in front of you guys with this trophy being the Open champion just means the world to me. In terms of what's going through my heart, there's obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she'd be very proud of me. She'd probably be saying, I told you so. But I think she'd be more proud of my two boys and them at home watching more than anything else. It's been a long journey to get here. As I say, I'm 42 and I'm not getting any younger. But you know, I've got here in the end. It may be the only major that I win, it may not be the only major that I win. But at least I've gone out there today and did my best, and my best was good enough to win. If I had come off and hadn't won, I could still have said I did my best. I can't ask for anything -- I ask my two boys to do their best and that's what they do. I can't ask them for any more, so I think their dad should try and do the same.
Q. Do you have any remaining golfing ambitions?
DARREN CLARKE: To win another couple of these. You know, what can I do? Can I say that's it, I'm going to retire now? I can't. I've got to keep on playing. To be The Open champion is just incredible. So you know, I've got to go back now, reassess and set some more goals. I've spent a bit of time earlier this year with a guy called Mike Finnigan from i2i Sports and we wrote down all my goals and stuff and blah, blah, blah and a few of them was to be sitting at Christmas and having won a couple of tournaments, and back in Augusta again next year to get myself back on track, and obviously I've achieved that now after today.
It's all good, but I need to reassess now and figure out some more goals. I don't just want to rest on this. I want to keep on going, keep on working on what I'm working on because my golf was obviously very good this week, albeit it was links and links does suit me. But I still feel as if I can compete with the best players in the world, and that's what I want to do. Obviously I can.
Q. ISM now have three majors in the bag this year. Do you think we'll see a Chubby Chandler Grand Slam with the PGA?
DARREN CLARKE: I can't see why not. I think one of my other good friends, Lee Westwood, has been knocking on the door for so long, I think it would be -- most of you guys agree, it would be wonderful to see him win one. And if he was to complete the Chubby Slam, I'm sure everybody concerned would be very pleased. But you know, he's got an awful lot of good players there that will have chances.
Q. Could you talk about the essence of what Tiger's message was to you.
DARREN CLARKE: No, definitely not. That's personal and private between the two of us. I'm not going down that road at all.
Q. What about on the same plane, what your message to Rory was and what he reiterated? Could you talk about that a little bit?
DARREN CLARKE: No, a little bit more, sort of "be patient" with Rory and "keep doing what you're doing, keep playing the way you're playing." That's basically all it was, and he was sort of telling me the same things I said back to him. As opposed to me being the old wise one and he was trying to give me all the information. So it was different.
Q. What was last night like compared to the sense of anticipation you would have had years ago when I presume there were no text messages?
DARREN CLARKE: I'm not that old. There was text messages a while ago. I may look ancient but I'm not that bad just yet. Last night was very relaxed. Over at Chubby's house again. Had very nice red wine and very nice food and was very relaxed. Had nine hours' sleep. Got up this morning ready to go. Been in this position and done it before, so this time I was much more relaxed than I have been for quite some time.
Q. Your celebrations aren't going to interfere Killarney, are they?
DARREN CLARKE: I will be in Killarney. I may not be sober for the Irish Open, but I will be in Killarney.
Q. You paused slightly just before tapping in the final putt. You turned to your right and said something to maybe Dustin or the caddie -
DARREN CLARKE: No, I was talking to myself. It was nothing really. I can't really remember what I said to myself at the time. I think I said something like, you've done it at last. But I think it was more to myself than anything else. I can't remember.
Q. Have you spoken to your boys yet?
DARREN CLARKE: No, I've been too busy out there lifting this, so I haven't had a chance to call them yet. But I'm about to call them right now whenever you stop asking me.
Q. How are you going to treat them -
DARREN CLARKE: They've probably already decided. Never mind what I'm going to treat them, they probably already decided what I have to buy them, especially Conner, the younger one. He will have decided already. But they were down at playing at Royal Portrush this morning and they were going to watch the golf all afternoon. I'm sure they'll be very pleased.
Q. Is there now an overwhelming argument for a Portrush Open, or would you rather see it played at St. George's every year?
DARREN CLARKE: I would prefer to see it played at Royal Portrush every year. That's where I would like to see it. Logistics that the R & A have to take a look at, and they have done, and at the moment they can't see a way of having it there, so it's very tough. I wish there was some way around it and I hope at some stage in the future they will find a way around it because the golf course is every bit as good as any of The Open venues and is good enough to be in the Open rota. Hopefully they will figure a way around the logistics if they possibly can.
Q. Just looking at your facial expressions today, the support that comes off the stands, you look almost embarrassed by it and you're also telling the crowd very quickly when you played a good shot to be quiet because Dustin was about to play. Does that say a lot about your character? Are you embarrassed by this?
DARREN CLARKE: No, the support was good. The reason I was telling the crowd to be quiet when Dustin was going to play, that's golf etiquette, that's manners, that's politeness, that's the way the game should be played. Yes, the roars and shouts for me were wonderful and I really, really enjoyed them, but whenever another player, a fellow professional is trying to win the Open Championship, as well, and he's about to hit his golf shot, it's only right that I try and get the crowds to give him the respect they give me. So that's why I was telling them to be quiet. In terms of being embarrassed, not really, I was loving every minute of it. But in my head - it's different all of a sudden being a little bit -- not having that support to have everybody shouting at me was a little bit overwhelming at certain times, brilliant but slightly overwhelming, but the crowd couldn't have been any better for me. And whenever I did put my hands up they quieted straight down for Dustin. They just got a little bit over exuberant.
Q. You seemed to have a nice moment with Mickelson afterward, is that something you can talk about?
DARREN CLARKE: It is something that I could talk about but I'm not going to. Again, that's personal between friends, and Phil has been through an awful lot with Amy and what have you, and we have spoken quite a lot. He has turned into also a very good friend of mine through thick and thin, and he said some very, very kind words to me there after the thing, which is great. And Amy is looking fantastic, as well.
In the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club, the way that we walked out where we -- whatever way it was, whether the Europeans were alphabetical and the Americans were whatever way they qualified, so I was C, so I was on my own, and Amy and Phil were walking opposite me, and Phil went one side and Amy went the other side, and that's the way we walked in the opening ceremony and the way we left the closing ceremony. So the three of them -- no, Phil was there, I was here and Amy stood in the middle and held both our hands. I can't say anything more about it than that.
Q. A few of us walked around with you and Rory early on Wednesday morning, and at the end, most of us were asking questions about Rory and not about you. However much you admire Rory and G-Mac, had you become bored over the last few years being sort of relegated to a cheerleader for them effectively?
DARREN CLARKE: No, not at all. I have been working away on my game, and the two guys deserve all the attention and credit that they get, without a shadow of a doubt. You know, I haven't given you guys too much to write about, so I can't have any qualms whatsoever, can I? That's the way the world works, that's the way the game works. Maybe now I've given you a couple of lines to write, but that's the way it is. I will always support the two guys because they've been fantastic for players as good as that coming out of home. I'll always be that way. But I'm delighted now that I can give you something to write about me for a change.
Q. It's a similar question in a sense, but you effectively mentored Rory over a number of years. His winning the U.S. Open last month, is there a connection between that and your victory here? Is there a relevance between these two things?
DARREN CLARKE: No, no, not really. As opposed to -- I told some of the press guys that were in here yesterday, I went to this party on Thursday night and they told me to get my finger out and try and win one myself. That's the only similarity between the whole thing. It's great, I enjoy Rory, I enjoy playing with him, I enjoy being friends with him, I enjoy playing with him and watching how he hits the golf ball. It's wonderful. In terms of do I still want to play and compete against him and try and beat him, of course I do and I planned to do it this week. He'll probably beat me more often than I'll beat him, so this week is okay.
Q. It's been written a lot over the weekend that you'll be the most popular Open winner for many years. Can you understand what it is about you or your character that has this great appeal and fascination to the public?
DARREN CLARKE: Because I'm a bit of a normal bloke, aren't I, really? I like to have a pint, I like to -- I don't know, go to the pub and have a pint, jump on Easy Jet, fly home, buy everybody a drink, just normal. There's not many airs and graces about me. I was, as a few of the scribes will attest to in here, a little bit more difficult to deal with in my earlier years, and I've mellowed some. Just a little bit. But I'm just a normal guy playing golf, having a bit of fun.
MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us. Congratulations.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.