The Virtuoso Performance by Darren Clarke

By: Jay Flemma


You couldn't cheer because you were crying, you couldn't cry because you were cheering, but both felt heartwarming and overwhelming anyway. In one unforgettable weekend Darren Clarke gave us a golf performance for all time. Gritty, courageous, inspiring, grateful, humble; a broken man held the entire golf world on his back this weekend and we held him up in return.

Struggling past the bitter loss of his soul mate, his better half, his confidante, his partner, Clarke gave his departed wife Heather's memory a tribute that will last throughout recorded golf history.

"She rousted me out of bed, she made me practice, she would have wanted me here," Clarke reminisced, misty-eyed. "The reception everyone gave me was something I'll never forget."

In return, shouldering a loss we all dread in the deepest recesses of our souls, Clarke took on the greatest golf challenge in the world – defeat the U.S. in the Ryder Cup. Clarke responded with the virtuoso performance of his life.

This was his magnum opus. Playing with the heaviest of hearts, yet buoyed by teammates and country, he crafted a perfect 3-0 record.

Courage is the ability to be strong, brave and resolute in the face of adversity, but valor is the ability to be courageous in the face of insurmountable odds and certain failure. That was what Clarke showed us – valor. His ability to come back and perform at the highest level after such heartbreak is an example to us all. No trophy of victory can ever make up for the loss in his heart, but he created an indisputable masterpiece with which to pay tribute.

Happily, his triumph was embraced by everyone, Europeans and Americans alike. Though we root for our respective flags, espouse our respective politics, defend our favorite sons with passion, we all stood united as one golf world in acknowledging and savoring something that will never fade in the cultural memory of the game. That's what Samuel Ryder envisioned when he started this competition. It doesn't matter what side wins or loses as long as the game and its spirit win every time.

This year, Clarke's victory was the game's victory and the game's victory was out victory. It was a shared victory – something both sides of the pond were proud to witness. Though there was Casey's incredible walk-off hole-in-one, there was Garcia's fire which the Europeans rallied around, and there was Olazabal's remarkable resurgence, this was Clarke's Cup.

Even American's love and revere him. I choose those words with precision; this is not grudging respect, this is not an "oh don't forget about" remembrance. Clarke has led so many times by example – championing, indeed living the spirit of the game. He has become a standard to which we hold our own performances – a paragon of virtue. That is what it means to have a true golfer's soul.

Clarke flat out dismantled Tiger Woods head to head in the finals of the 2000 World Match Play Championship. Clarke took a self-imposed penalty even though rules officials told him he need not last year in a European Tour event. Clarke overcame the bitterest personal loss to record team triumph at the Ryder Cup. He set an example for every fan everywhere.

That dear sports fans, is what it means to be a sportsman. Slante, Darren, thank you . . . and Godspeed.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.blogspot.com, Jay Flemma’s comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America’s great public golf courses (and whether they’re worth the money), Jay has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf – or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.


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