Clarke happy in shop window

Andrew Farrell talks to an Ulsterman revelling in the fast lane to Valderrama
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The Independent Online
Forget about playing golf for Europe, Darren Clarke could shop for the continent. It is not that he is more likely to appear on Supermarket Sweep than A Question of Sport, but Clarke does have two weaknesses: clothes and fast cars.

"I do tend to spend a little bit when I've got some time off," Clarke admits, "but I haven't had too much time off recently. It's time to get something into the bank without me spending it."

Clarke has been too busy earning recently. He picked up pounds 45,000 for two days work at the Andersen Consulting World Championship and, last week, won pounds 82,023 for his second place in the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth. That left him just short of pounds 1.5m in career earnings after six years on tour.

Of course, the more successful a sportsman, the less likely he is to have to fork out for something himself. Clarke now has a clothing contract with Hugo Boss and merely has to drop in on the factory in Germany to replenish the wardrobe.

Equally, his club manufacturers have offered him a pounds 100,000 Ferrari 355 for making the European Ryder Cup team and winning two points in September's match at Valderrama. This is an incentive indeed for a man who admits: "The car of my dreams is one that goes fast."

While at Wentworth, Clarke did have time to reward himself with a Ferrari Testarossa. The vehicle is clearly le cadeau de la semaine. Last week's Lottery winner bought his brother one for pounds 60,000. Clarke's was not new. Over the years he has bought and sold two Porsches and a Lexus. The Ferrari will be for high days and holidays touring around the country near his home in Portrush. He is at present looking for an every day runabout, which will probably be Swedish in origin, although he is reluctant to name the manufacturers as they are a rival to the European Tour's biggest sponsor.

All this has given the 28-year-old Ulsterman a reputation for fast living. He would say he is merely enjoying the fruits of his labours, which is refreshing to hear. "I work very hard and practise very hard and when I'm playing, I do the best I can.

"We are very fortunate with the amount of money we can make and that allows me to do a lot of things that I like to do. Cars are my No 1 hobby outside golf. I chop and change and enjoy myself. All the stuff about going out and having a good time and drinking, that's not the case at all. I have an interest in cars and want to enjoy myself. That's the reason I play the game."

And playing the game is something Clarke takes seriously. Over the winter he worked out six times a week. Fatty foods have disappeared from his diet and a pint of Guinness has not passed his lips for months. "At 300 calories a pint I have to avoid it, although it's very difficult, especially when I'm at home on a cold, wintry day at Portrush."

At third in the Ryder Cup rankings with 337,951 points, Clarke's chances of being at Valderrama are extremely high. A good US Open in two weeks time, where he has missed the cut on both his previous appearances, and his place will be beyond doubt.

As for his chances of earning at least two points they are helped by the fact he is a certainty to play in the two series of fourballs. Powerful of build and aggressive by nature, when he is on form Clarke threatens course records. When it is not quite his day, the number of birdies and bogeys will outweigh the pars. Put him with someone steady, like Bernhard Langer, and let him go.

"It was not my main goal to make the Ryder Cup team, but obviously I want to play and I've been close the last two times," he said. Clarke's German Masters win last October was his second on tour, although most pundits would say "only his second" and that the promise of his amateur career - he was a plus-four handicap when he turned pro - has not been fulfilled.

"I've had more opportunities to win and let them slip by. I've learnt a lot from being in contention, and I've been in contention more and hopefully the next win is not far away." Clarke worked hard over the winter with Peter Cowen, Lee Westwood's coach. Westwood and Clarke are both managed by Andrew Chandler. His stable of bright young things also includes Paul McGinley, Andrew Coltart and Stuart Cage.

"There is a healthy rivalry between us," Clarke said. "We all want each other to do as well as they can, and we all want to beat each other. It's nice to be regarded as one of the new guys coming through and hopefully I can keep on improving. But the only expectations that I want to live up to are my own. If I can live up to my own expectations then that's fine."