In this case, however, Im happy to tell you that Darren Clarke is one of my guys. Hes obviously a jolly good fellow and a lot of fun to be around ' even if just for a few minutes.
Clarke worked harder on his body than he did anything else. I know. I saw it first-hand in a hotel gym outside Thousand Oaks, Calif., during the week of the Target World Challenge. It was December and while most players were taking the holidays off, Clarke was pouring sweat like the man behind the bar had become accustomed to pouring him fresh pints.
I watched, and we talked a bit in between crunches, medicine ball tosses, weights and cardio. His trainer worked him out harder than an infant works at a new teething ring and I found out just how much his boys Tyrone and Conor and wife Heather (whos been battling cancer) mean in the grand scheme of things.
Clarke likes The Golf Channel more than you can imagine. Fact was - he wore me out with excitement about how TGC was headed to the UK given that he couldnt get us on his current satellite system. It was great, and given that I was actually working out a bit as well, we sort of joined together in a bond toward better fitness. (I just havent gone with the plaid pants as yet.) His fitness craze actually cost him a wardrobe of some 200 shirts and 100 pants but gave him a fresh mind and a chance to visit a tailor for the new wardrobe he now sports on course.
His worldwide victories (13) and good standing in Ryder Cup play (4 teams) over the years speaks the absolute truth about his level of ability.
Yet, last weekend at Harbour Town, Clarke turned a two day total of 130 and a huge lead into a Saturday ' Sunday of 149 and a huge collapse. Watching Clarke go from 14 under to 5 under faster than the new-look Clarke could run up the famed lighthouse was unbelievable.
I asked myself where it came from. We talked about it on the 'Sprint Post Game' Sunday night. Clarke himself said he couldnt believe what hed just done.
Cmon. Weve all done it. One thing goes wrong and everything goes wrong after.
A few weeks ago I was out at Orlandos Grand Cypress Resort playing like a champ from the tips (they made me) with a few Nationwide Tour card-holding friends. I get to the par 4 ninth at 1 over with a more-than-respectable 37 in the cards. Great drive. And then I see too much of the water and lose my focus on playing smart. One visit to the lake later and its a 39, followed up by a 43 and Im left to tell my friends about just how often I can find a way to shoot 82.
Then, just a few days ago, I rush to my home course and without hitting a ball on the range I proceed to three-putt my way to back-to-back bogeys right out of the gate. Seven holes later Ive rebounded to shoot 39. OK, things are good.
Then we get held up at the turn for 30 minutes by among others a mild-mannered club employee whos skipping around and had come to the first (we started at 10) from the 15th. This makes me furious and I spend the next handful of minutes questioning the pro shops practice that morning. Double bogey, double bogey at 1 and 2 and Im in full Darren Clarke mode.
The good news, if there is any, is that I rebound for a back nine 41 and post 80.
Heres the deal. Im a registered 7 handicap whos posted rounds of 74 on more than a few occasions. But as my cohort on the 'Sprint Post Game' Brian Hewitt and I talk about ' the problem with being a 7 is that while youre good enough to go low, youre also not quite good enough to fight off the demons that take you into the 80sway into the 80s. Ive got the cards to prove it.
Funny thing was, that as things were going so Darren Clarke wrong the other day during my double-double stretch, I was honestly thinking about Clarke and what he must have felt like trying to hold on to what had gone so, so right.
Weve all been there. And while its easy to think of Clarke and say things like Wow ' hes got 13 worldwide wins and been a Ryder Cup hero? Its also what we love about this game so much.
Clarke ' while easily one of the games top 20 players ' has the ability to be just like the rest of us. Hes not always immune to the pressure. Hes not able to beat off the demons with his rescue club.
If you watched the 'Sprint Post Game' on Sunday, you know that Clarke went straight into the media center after fatting his chance to win. He faced the questions and he answered the questions with the same honest bewilderment that we all feel on the course sometimes. That was impressive.
I was a big Darren Clarke fan before Sunday at the MCI Heritage. Now, after listening to Clarke ' and living his Sunday world for myself this week, Im a huge fan.
By the way, Clarke shot 1 under Thursday at the Shell Houston Open with one birdie and NO bogeys. Not a single one.
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