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Sandwich very much to Clarke's taste
He wasn't the pick of many people before the Open Championship got underway but, with a display of imperious ball striking, Darren Clarke emphatically showed there's life in the (not so) old dog yet

The 140th playing of the Open Championship left us with many memories. The greatest of all, of course, was the victory of Darren Clarke at the age of 42. Most, if not all, the press made that sound as if he had one foot in the grave. I've watched Darren since he first appeared in the world of professional golf and I've seen him in many moods, which he now readily accepts were not always of the highest calibre, but how wonderfully refreshing for him to reach the stage in life when you can look back and, with an open face and an open heart, confess that you were at times a bit of a misery.

Over the past three months, the 'misery guts' has turned into a charmer. Many explanations have been put forward as to how and why this has happened but, deep down, only Darren himself will know the full details. Whatever, I'm so pleased it has happened.

His ball-striking throughout the championship was splendid, although on the last day he had a couple of slices of outrageous good fortune. But that's golf. You have to take the rough with the smooth. I have no idea whether he was battling inner demons but I have never seen anybody seem to be in as much control of themselves as he was on that last afternoon. The weather played a significant part, too - for 15 or 20 minutes, the rain thundered down and the wind was at its strongest. Then out came the sun, off came the waterproofs, only for it to rain again 45 minutes later. That was the pattern of the day, although Darren finished in short-sleeve order.

At the end of a fascinating week at Royal St George's, the 42-year-old Darren Clarke was a deserving champion
(Photography by GettyImages.com)

I'm sure all those rounds of golf he'd put under his belt at Royal Portrush over the last winter must have played an important part in helping him to cope with the conditions at Sandwich during the weekend. It was over those two days that the course became a classic test of demanding links golf and Clarke was the man who proved the best equipped to handle those challenges.

The American contingent was very much to the fore throughout the event and it looked for a time as if Phil Mickelson was at last going to win the Open. His first nine holes were electrifying but a short missed putt at the 11th started a deflation of his magical play. Rickie Fowler also showed great skill. Two amateurs qualified for the final day's play - Tom Lewis of England and Peter Uihlein from the United States. Lewis led after the first day with a sparkling 65 and there were cries that he must turn professional immediately. Good sense prevailed - he hopes to play in the Walker Cup matches, which will take place in Royal Aberdeen in September, then he would wait and see. Talented though he is, he has a long way to go and a lot to learn before he steps into the professional arena. The golfing world is littered with young men who have turned pro too soon, became disillusioned and hurried back to the amateur ranks.

As for the logistics, there were acres and acres of car parking handily placed for the course, but all in all it was something of a nightmare at times getting in and certainly getting out, with loads of lovely policemen standing idly by watching the patrons getting more and more agitated, not seemingly inclined to offer a hand in making the traffic flow easier. But then traffic problems exist of some sort or another at every venue the championship is played at.

The food and beverage charges bordered on the outrageous, particularly when you compare them to those charged at Augusta National. I hope the exhibition tent was a commercial success but to my mind it was very dull compared to the interesting exhibition tents of years ago. Change doesn't always seem to take us forward.

Overall I feel the championship was a success but I'm sure not everyone was happy with how things went, including those local shopkeepers who felt certain a lot of business would come their way and that just did not materialise. From a personal perspective, for the first time since 1969 I didn't manage to get to the Bollinger Tent or set foot in the clubhouse, something I regret. A glass of champagne always goes down well before the championship gets started, and I have many fond memories of my infrequent visits to Royal St George's and my meetings with some of the famous members of years gone by. I'm not sure I'll be around when the next championship is played at St George's, as I'm sure it will be, but when the powers that be reflect on how it all went, no doubt there will be much to ponder.

There'll be no regrets, of course, for Darren Clarke. He played absolutely superbly and it was a deserved victory. He worked very hard for it and he deserves to enjoy the fruits that his success will certainly bring.

August 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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