Wrenching Time for Clarke as Ryder Cup Nears

By Associated PressSeptember 18, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- The shiny gold trophy sat on the table, and Ian Woosnam wasn't sure whether to take it with him.
Standing to leave his news conference Monday at The K Club, the European captain clutched it in his right hand and was headed out the door when he walked past Darren Clarke and instinctively handed him the Ryder Cup.
For all the emotions swirling around Clarke in the five weeks since his wife died, it was a reminder why he is here.
'A lot of people understand the position I'm in,' Clarke said. 'I've had a very emotional time of late. But as soon as the bell goes, I'm there to play golf, and I'm going to try to play as best I can. And hopefully, my best will be enough to earn some points for the team.'
Clarke contributed 3 1/2 points to Europe's landslide victory last time in the Ryder Cup, a festive occasion.
Two weeks after returning home from Oakland Hills, however, he learned that breast cancer had returned to his wife, Heather, and quickly spread through her body. She urged him to keep playing, even as her condition worsened.
A year ago at the BMW Championship at Wentworth, players and their wives were in tears to hear that Heather had suffered another setback and wasn't expected to live more than a week. Clarke always called her a fighter, and that much was clear.
She rallied time and again, strong enough to join him in the Bahamas the week before the Masters. But after Clarke opened with a 68 in the Houston Open a few weeks later, he withdrew to fly home to London when she took another turn for the worse.
Finally, he called it quits after missing the cut at the British Open, wanting to spend as much time as he could with his family.
'We went on a family holiday,' he said. 'We went to Greece for a day, and didn't like that; ended up in Portugal for a little bit. And after that, a bit of a rush to get back home on an air ambulance, just had a bit of a nightmare. But we got back home, and things went downhill rather rapidly.'
She died Aug. 13, leaving behind her husband and two sons, 8-year-old Tyrone and 5-year-old Conor.
Clarke would come home from the hospital in her last few weeks and hit balls, mostly to take his mind off a helpless situation. He returned to practice after the funeral because he wanted to be ready if he felt he should play in the Ryder Cup.
Woosnam offered him a captain's pick and Clarke accepted, for no other reason than Heather would have wanted him to play.
'I have my moments,' he said. 'But overall, I'm very comfortable with what I'm doing. I did think long and hard about whether I should be here this week, and I came to the conclusion that I would help the team if I was here. So that's why I'm here. I want to play. I want to compete. And I want to help my teammates.'
And while he has continued to work hard on his game, his routine has changed.
Clarke takes his oldest son to school in the morning before going to the golf course. He comes home to eat lunch with Conor and returns to practice until it's time to pick up Tyrone in the afternoon.
If there is any good that has come out of this, he has grown closer to his boys.
'I've had to look after them a bit more than what I normally have done,' Clarke said. 'Heather suffered for four years, basically, and it was very difficult to watch that. But since she's passed away, I'm happy with my relationship with my kids.'
He has thought about bringing them to opening ceremonies on Thursday -- a time when players make a grand entrance with their wives at their sides -- but isn't sure he can take them away from school. And they won't be around when the matches start at what is expected to be the biggest sports event in Ireland.
'They're not quite tall enough to see over everybody,' he said.
The unknown is how his game can stack up to the pressure of the Ryder Cup, and how his emotions handle three days of the biggest frenzy in golf. The loudest cheer all week might be when Clarke's name is announced on the first tee.
'It will be fantastic for him to play,' said Tiger Woods, one of Clarke's closest friends on the U.S. tour whose father died in May after a long battle with cancer. 'It will be fantastic for him to have teammates around him. I still think it's going to be hard because every player has his wife there. It's going to be hard in that environment at times. He knows that. We've talked about that. You have to deal with it one day, and it might as well be now.'
Clarke returned last week at the Madrid Masters, where he opened with a 68 and finished 15 shots behind. He was disappointed but has high expectations this week.
'I wasn't going out there just to try and play and shoot a decent number,' he said. 'I've worked very hard to get myself back onto that first tee. I was there to play.'
Even so, the 38-year-old from Northern Ireland cannot escape questions about the state of his game, much less his head.
'To come to the Ryder Cup in Ireland will be emotional enough for Irish players, but to have this on top of it ...,' Nick Faldo said last week. 'All these things will lift him, and I'm sure the bottom line is Heather would have wished that if anything happened to her, she would want him to play for the Ryder Cup. It will be gut-wrenching at times, but he will be strong and want to be part of it.'
Clarke is among the most popular players on both teams, mixing as easily with Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk as he does with Lee Westwood and Paul McGinley. A British golf writer once described him as someone who knew the inside of a Ferrari, the outside of a cigar and the bottom of a glass of Guinness.
Win or lose, U.S. captain Tom Lehman expects him to be a central figure in these matches.
'I think he's going to make the European team stronger,' Lehman said. 'I think he's going to make the Ryder Cup better. And I think it would not be nearly as good a Ryder Cup without him.'
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 36th Ryder Cup Matches
  • Getty Images

    Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

    By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

    One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

    Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

    "I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

    Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

    "I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

    Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

    "Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

    Getty Images

    Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

    Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

    Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

    “I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

    The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

    “I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

    This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

    The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

    Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

    The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

    A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

    And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

    Masters victory

    Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

    Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

    Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

    Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

    Green jacket tour

    Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

    Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

    Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

    Man of the people

    Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

    Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

    Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

    Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

    Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

    Growing family

    Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

    Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

    Departure from TaylorMade

    Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

    Squashed beef with Paddy

    Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

    Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

    Victory at Valderrama

    Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm