Happy-Go-Lucky Clarke Has New Weapon

By George WhiteMarch 16, 2004, 5:00 pm
04 Bay Hill InvitationalHe speaks in a delightful Irish brogue, quick with the laugh while eyes continually dance left and right. When Darren Clarke opens his mouth, something funny always comes spewing out. Maybe its the Irish in him. Then again, maybe he is just playing one huge joke on the world at-large.
Clarke returns to the States this week after being absent since the WGC-Accenture Match Play a month ago. He returned home to Great Britain, played the tournament in Dubai where he missed the cut, then returned home again. Now its back to America, where he will play until after the Masters.
His five-tournament run to start the PGA Tour season was the ultimate mixed bag. He began at the Mercedes and finished third ' not bad! His next three tries ' the Sony, the Buick Invitational and the Nissan ' were all missed cuts. Not good! Then he played the Match Play and didnt lose until the fifth match when Davis Love edged him on the 21st hole. He finished third when he defeated Stephen Leaney in the consolation match ' thats good!
Clarke is scheduled to appear on the Golf Channels Academy Live with Butch Harmon Monday night. When he gets on camera, he will be hardly recognizable from a profile view. Hes lost 35 pounds in the last seven months, travels with his personal trainer, and is merely a shadow of his former doughboy self.
It's the same story I'm telling everybody, said Clarke, leaving one to wonder if it is a true story or just a story. Basically, I'm in the gym six days a week, working out two hours a day. I wish my golf was the same as the way I feel. I'm pretty much into it now and I want to keep getting better and stronger.
The three missed cuts in America are a puzzle. He missed by one stroke at Sony when he failed to it get up-and-down. He then shot 70-78 to botch up the Buick. And he opened with a ghastly 82 at Riviera before rebounding with a nice 68.
Its disappointing more than anything, said Clarke.
I went to Butch and spent three days in Vegas before I went to Torrey Pines (the Buick), and I just basically misunderstood what Butch was trying to get me to do. So I worked on it and got myself into the wrong sort of position, so now I'm working to get myself out of it.
And probably my iron play has been not quite as sharp as it should be. I've been short-siding myself a lot and you can't afford to do that. I did that all day at Riviera on Thursday and paid a huge penalty for it. My irons are not as sharp as they should be.
The 35-year-old has already accumulated a lot of pocket change this year. His third-place finish in the Mercedes netted $400,000 and the third at Accenture added $530,000 ' a total of $930,000.
Clarke will still play a full complement of events in Europe, remaining there extensively throughout the summer when the Europe Tour comes back home. In the meantime, there is some work left to be done before he grasps fully Harmons suggestions.
I'm putting my head down, he said, keep working, working on a couple things with Butch that haven't broken through yet. But hopefully I'll start playing better soon.
Clarke isnt sure what to expect from his new regimen. He hopes, of course, to one day rank No. 1 in the world above his close friend Tiger Woods. But he will settle on just being better than he has been.
I just want to keep playing and playing as well as I can and see where that takes me to. I've proved that I can win big tournaments, so I want to try to do that on a more frequent basis, Clarke said.
Clarke is entrusting a pretty successful European Tour career to Harmon. He has won 11 times worldwide in addition to a couple of World Golf Tour events, the 2000 Match Play and the NEC Invitational last year that finally convinced him to try America. But he seems totally confident in what Harmon is doing.
I think Butch is very good for me because we've got a similar type personality, Clarke began. We enjoy ourselves. He says what he needs to say to me and then let's me get on with things. He gives me a bit of grief whenever he thinks I need a bit of grief.
He basically is just very interested in how I'm going to play. He speaks to me on a very regular basis after watching me play. If I'm not over here (in the U.S.), then watching on The Golf Channel. He'll be watching in Vegas and give me a call and say, You're doing this and that, and we just get on very well.
Occasionally Clarke misunderstands the lesson Harmon is trying to impart. Such was the case at the Buick. It didnt take long to discover there had been a breakdown in communication ' when they started hooking left and then hooking another 15 yards. It's usually a dead giveaway ' theres that sense of humor.
I misunderstood what he was trying to get me to do. That was my fault.
Clarke enjoys a hearty laugh, and he jokes frequently about the new swing and the new anatomy. He smiles at the suggestion there might be more to an occasional bad score than just a temporary hiccup in the swing. Let others fret about the inconsistency while he acclimates to Harmons advice. Clarke just wants to enjoy life ' while improving his golf game, of course.
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