Royal journey

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2011, 8:23 pm

SANDWICH, England – Scenic Bushmills Road is the ultimate old country anomaly – suburban sprawl on one side dotted with trailer parks and brightly colored billboards, sweeping views of the north Atlantic and venerable Royal Portrush Golf Club on the other.

Expect that busy landscape to be even more cluttered when Darren Clarke motors home on Monday, and he couldn’t be happier.

By the time the 42-year-old father of two makes it back to Northern Ireland, there will be a “Congratulations Darren, 2011 British Open champion” sign erected along Bushmills Road to match a similar celebratory message the cozy seaside village put up following the 2010 U.S. Open victory by Graeme McDowell, another native son.

It will be the ultimate homecoming for a man who lost his way and his game following the 2006 death of his wife Heather, claret jug in hand, likely filled with his beloved Guinness, and major monkey off his back, scattered to the fierce winds that made the ’11 Open Championship a perfect fit for the lifelong “mudder.”

“We’ve had some pretty dark phone calls,” said Clarke’s longtime manager Chubby Chandler. “He lost about five or six years of his career.”

There are victories that transcend sport, emotional accomplishments that are worth more than the sum of their athletic parts, but this, the Four Seasons Open – with players often teeing off in a winter gale only to putt out under warm, sunny skies – was something else.

That Clarke finally broke through the grand slam ceiling just days after a closing-round collapse at the Scottish Open will only add to the legend, which promises to grow even if the man himself is looking to shrink. On Monday Clarke – who began the week at 111th in the World Golf Ranking, a 150-to-1 Open long-shot and weighing in at a generous 200 pounds according to the media guide – promised Chandler that he would begin a Weight Watchers program.

“Five (Weight Watchers) points for a pint of Guinness, it would be a bad week for me to start,” Clarke said flashing his signature smile. It was a smile, and a moment, that didn’t seem possible just a few years ago.

Following 2006 nothing came easy. Not the game that he took up with his father, Godfrey, at Dungannon Golf Club nearly four decades ago, not the putts that lifted him to 13 European Tour titles, not the motivation that drove him to be a Ryder Cup staple.

He’d fallen so low that one writer from the United Kingdom described his career in particularly unflattering terms as “an inexplicable slide toward irrelevance.” On Sunday, claret jug resting by his side, Clarke couldn’t help but offer a playful response.

“What is this a mirage?” he smiled at the offending writer and motioned toward the silver chalice. It didn’t seem Clarke was holding a grudge, however, when he had a few cases of champagne delivered to the press tent late Sunday.

The tipping point came late last year when he packed up his two boys and moved back home to Portrush from London. The results were almost instant. He won earlier this year in Spain and arrived at Royal St. George’s confident, yet frustrated by his pedestrian putting.

The final piece of the puzzle was waiting for him on Wednesday on St. George’s practice putting green in the form of Dr. Bob Rotella. The two had worked together for years but had drifted apart when Clarke began limiting his playing schedule in America.

For Rotella the fix was simple.

“Darren made a comment to me, ‘I’ve been through the tough times and the good times. I just want to play my best,’” Rotella said. “There is a relationship between being happy and becoming unconscious and being serious and being conscious.”

For 72 wind-whipped holes Clarke only appeared to be unconscious. Despite a four-club wind that dismantled umbrellas from Dover to Deal, the Ulsterman was two closing bogeys away from becoming just the fourth man to win the Open with four rounds in the 60s.

“As to what is going through my heart,” said Clarke, the first Northern Irishman to win the British Open since 1947. “Somebody up there (Heather) is looking down on me. She’d probably tell me, ‘I told you so.’”

Clarke closed with a 70 for a 5-under-275 total, three strokes clear of the American two-ball of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

In fairness, it wasn’t as easy as Clarke made it look. In fact, before he reached the turn on Sunday Mickelson had defied conventional wisdom and pulled even with him thanks to a flawless front-nine 30.

Lefty endeavored to play this Open, his 18th, like it was his first, and matched Clarke at 5 under with a 25-foot eagle putt at the seventh just as the tempest began building to the north, but ultimately he finished like a rookie.

A missed 3-footer for par at the 11th rattled Mickelson and he never recovered, following with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 13 and 14 for a 68. Still, it was links progress. His runner-up showing was his best ever at the game’s oldest tilt and the moral victory didn’t escape Lefty.

“Oh man, that was some of the most fun I’ve had competitively,” Mickelson said. “I hit some of the best shots I’ve hit in the wind, not just today but really all week.”

There will be one shot into the teeth of the gale that Johnson, who began the final day of a major in the final group for the third time in his last six grand slam outings, will remember for some time. Just two strokes back and the par-5 14th waiting, Johnson (68) pushed his second shot closer to adjacent Prince’s Golf Club than the 14th fairway, out of bounds and out of contention.

It put an end to what was shaping up to be an American breakthrough of sorts. The red, white and blue major drought is now 1-for-7. It says much about the state of the game in the United States that after Mickelson and Johnson, it was 61-year-old Tom Watson who most stirred the American spirit.

Ivor Robson has been calling Open tee times since Old Tom was Young Tom (37 years). “On the first teeee, Tooom Watson,” he has announced in his singsong pitch for 33 years. It must never get old.

Although Old Tom was outplayed on Thursday by Young Tom (Lewis), Watson followed with rounds of 70-72-72 to tie for 22nd, his 15th top-25 finish at the Open.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Watson said. “I had a hole-in-one (No. 6 on Friday). I mean come on. It couldn’t get better than that.”

What would golf writers do without Tom Watson?

But then if a Watson miracle is too much to ask for, a Clarke comeback may be too much to believe. He wasn’t perfect by any measure, missing more fairways than he hit (23 of 56) and finishing tied for 31st in putting (1.65 average), but he was good enough.

“Twenty years he’s been trying to win it,” Godfrey Clarke said. “Between the kids being happy and him being happy it sort of settled him down, took some of the steam out of him.”

They say the ancient links at Royal Portrush, which hosted the 1951 Open Championship, doesn’t have the infrastructure to rejoin the secluded list of rotation courses, although whoever made that observation must not have checked the grand slam gridlock this week in Sandwich.

Two major champions in a little more than a year may finally change that thinking, but first the seaside enclave may need to tidy up all that sprawl along Bushmills Road.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

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Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

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