Clarke mulls Ryder role as wife loses cancer fight

Darren Clarke's wife, Heather, died in the early hours of yesterday at London's Royal Marsden Hospital after a long battle with cancer. The Ulster golfer has told those close to him that he has not ruled out making an emotional tribute to the 39-year-old by appearing in next month's Ryder Cup in Dublin.

The primary concern for Clarke, who is 38 today, will obviously be that of his two young sons Tyrone, eight, and Conor, five, and their coming to terms with the loss of their mother.

Such was Heather's popularity, however, that her death will be felt throughout the game, a fact underlined by the entire field at the KLM Open in the Netherlands yesterday donning black ribbons and Paul McGinley declaring that he, too, will be missing this week's USPGA Championship in Chicago.

A great friend of the Clarkes, McGinley revealed that despite the final major being so important for his own hopes of qualifying for Ian Woosnam's team at the K Club, he had to attend Heather's funeral. Details of when or where that will be have yet to be announced.

Yesterday, Clarke paid tribute to his wife of 10 years and the tremendous spirit she showed after being diagnosed with the disease in 2002. "Heather's courage and bravery throughout the last two years when she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer has been an inspiration," he said in a statement released by his management company.

"Heather never complained once throughout her ordeal and we will all miss her greatly. She was a wonderful and enormously supportive wife, mother and friend." Indeed, even when her condition worsened this year, she beseeched her husband to carry on playing - a truth that his friends believe may just make him accept Woosnam's invitation of a wild card for the K Club - and that he did so with such success spoke of Clarke's courage as well. He held the lead until the latter stages at both the Irish Open and Scottish Open, in spite of his torment being painfully clear.

At last month's Open Championship it became too much and Clarke, on missing the cut, informed the media: "I won't play again for the foreseeable future." Most took that to mean the Ryder Cup, but it now seems that his wife's inspiration will play a massive part in forming his decision. Understandably, all he would say yesterday was that "I will return to the game when I feel ready", echoing his words at Hoylake. "I know that many people will be wondering about the Ryder Cup, but such things are not in my thoughts at the moment. Now is the time to concentrate on matters much more important than golf."

Darren met Heather in a nightclub in Portrush, near his Dungannon home. He asked if she would like a drink and on receiving the shot of sambuca from the bar, accidentally spilled the contents all over her dress. He then dropped the second and, on taking her to the dance floor, accidentally stubbed a cigarette into her new jacket lying on the floor.

Regardless of that unpromising beginning, they quickly began dating and, after marrying, set up home in Sunningdale, Surrey, from where they travelled the world together and raised Tyrone and Conor. In her final years, Heather joined her partner in promoting cancer awareness.