A dream fulfilled at last for the hero of Dungannon

Clarke's win extends a remarkable run for Northern Ireland. David McKittrick reports

Proudly claiming ownership of golf's hottest sensation in years, Northern Ireland had high hopes of celebrating an Ulster victory when the Open Championship began last Thursday.



That anticipation was realised in great style with the final putt yesterday afternoon – but rather than rejoicing over young tyro Rory McIlroy as expected, it was instead an altogether more poignant win for the old pro Darren Clarke that had the Guinness flowing.

Fulfilling his lifetime ambition by winning his first major at Royal St George's at Sandwich in Kent, Clarke became the oldest winner of the Claret Jug since 1967 – and, following the death of his wife five years ago, one of the most widely saluted.

The result was received ecstatically in Dungannon golf club in Tyrone, where Clarke played as a boy. Although his family may have moved away some time ago, the golfer is still viewed as a local hero and his parents are regarded as the finest of folk. When he won yesterday, the roar of triumph was deafening in the members' room, which is festooned with photographs of the golfer and has four of his jackets displayed on the walls.

At the start of the afternoon, there was perhaps a certain anxiety. But it quickly faded as it became clear he was not about to let slip his overnight lead. Assured by his self-confidence, the men in the lounge relaxed and savoured their pints and the prospect of success.

When American competitors played shots, the guys shouted "bunker, bunker" in the hope the balls would land in the sand. But it was all good-natured fun. "Aren't we bad-hearted," one member said.

Clarke's shots drew murmurs of appreciation, but as the day wore on the volume grew louder as victory neared. When it eventually came, the cheers and yells drowned out individual voices, merging into a collective sound of joy. Some fists were flung in the air while others banged tables.

A prominent plaque records that Clarke opened the modern clubhouse in June 2000. His father, Godfrey, was the head greenkeeper in Dungannon, while his mother, Hetty, was also a skilled player.

"They are held in the highest esteem," Joe Cavlin, the club captain, said. "Great people."

Another member, Paul Statham, said: "No matter who you are you'll always get a welcome here."

Clarke's victory extended a remarkable period of achievements for Northern Ireland golfers, who have now scored three major victories in just over a year thanks to Graeme McDowell winning last year's US Open and McIlroy repeating the feat a few weeks ago. Already Northern Ireland is being described – tongue-in-cheek – as a "golf superpower".

Golfing hero's private grief

Any golfer would delight in winning the Open in front of an adoring crowd. But for Darren Clarke, his nail-biting victory at Royal St George's, his first win in a major, was a fitting end to an incredibly tough five years.

In 2006, the Northern Irish golfer's wife, Heather, died of breast cancer a few months before the Ryder Cup. Clarke's bravery as he then helped the European team to victory at the K Club in Ireland won over fans and non-fans alike as he shed tears of joy – before downing a pint of Guinness in one to cheers from the crowd. Clarke, now 42, went on to rebuild his life with his two sons, Tyrone and Conor, getting engaged to his girlfriend Alison Campbell last December.

The pair were set up on a blind date by fellow Northern Irish golfer Graeme McDowell, and a few days ago he paid tribute to her for getting his career going again. "I've got a wonderful fiancée," he said. "Alison is a great girl and instrumental in my getting my life back on track."

ROB HASTINGS

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style