Clarke's true grit: 'Do I think I can get through it? Without a doubt. What will get me through it? I will...'
Speaking for the first time since the tragic death of his wife last month, Darren Clarke is sure that he has made the right decision to play in next week's Ryder Cup
Thursday 14 September 2006
There are obstacles awaiting Darren Clarke of far more significance than a mere golf tournament - and of infinitely more importance than a mere press conference before a mere golf tournament - but the Ulsterman's courage here yesterday did prove one thing. It showed that, in his own words: "I can do this, I will get through it, I have to." When the grieving husband opened up publicly for the first time since the death of his wife, Heather, exactly a month to the day that the 39-year-old lost her battle with cancer, there were bound to be tears and for a few seconds this intrusion into his and his two young sons' torment appeared all too much for him as he verged on breaking down.
But then he steeled himself, told himself, once again, "I have to do this" and went about displaying the nerve that he is certain will carry him through next week. After this, "Darren Clarke at the Ryder Cup" does not seem anywhere near as foreboding as it had done; not for the media and, very probably, not even for the 38-year-old himself.
In this horrid chapter of a life that will always, inevitably, be tarnished by tragedy, Clarke was dreading this initial baring of his soul. It is not being over the top to suggest that he crossed his Rubicon in a little tent adjoining an undistinguished golf course on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.
Of course, there are many hurdles and much pageantry full of painful reminders for Clarke to negotiate before the biennial match-off tees off a week tomorrow on the island of his birth, not least this Madrid Open in which he will play his first competitive golf since the Open at Hoylake two months ago. It says something about the consummate talent of this most natural of ball-strikers that there was the barest query to his being match-fit in time to tackle Tiger Woods and Co at the K Club.
But then, there was the handicap of the heart to concern his inquisitors.
"I wouldn't play if I didn't think I could benefit the team and that was always the bottom line," he said. "When Heather passed away, I spent a good deal of time thinking whether I should or shouldn't play. The main reason for the latter would have been if I thought I would have been letting my team-mates down and I would never have let that happen.
"So do I think I can get through it?" he added. "Most definitely, without a doubt. What will get me through it? I will. Nobody else. My team will help me as will everybody else, but I will deal with it and I will enjoy the week."
That is one of many promises Clarke made to himself as he weighed up the imponderables of whether he should answer Ian Woosnam's call for a wild-card role. What made his choice that much more the straightforward was the wish of his wife of 10 years. "I knew Heather would have wanted me to play," he said. "She was the one who made this possible. When she was ill she was the one kicking me out the door to go and play tournaments. She wasn't the sort of person who would want to me to sit about and mope at home. She would want me to get back out working again."
Clarke confessed that it was in these desperate days when he first considered his involvement on the Palmer Course at the K Club. "Heather was diagnosed two weeks after the last Ryder Cup, almost two years ago, so it's not something that has happened out of the blue," he said. "I knew it was going to happen, as most people do in that situation, and it was always at the back of my mind whether or not I would be able to play or not play.
"It was obvious from an early stage that if I was going to get on the team then I was going to have to be a pick. I was just trying to let Woosie see I was still playing OK."
Indeed, some of his performances belied simply belief as he somehow managed to withstand the distractions of the heartbreak at home to figure high up a number of leaderboards. There always seemed a moment when the intensity would conquer him and the strokes would start mounting. Does he not dread that will happen in Co Kildare?
"Dread is too strong a word," he said. "I'd be a liar if I was to sit here and say that there will be a few times where I won't feel uncomfortable, which no doubt I will do. But I'm not dreading it. It was always coming where at some stage I would have to stand up and get on with my life and that is what I am trying to do."
He has been helped in this regard by his many friends in the game who have been in touch since Heather's passing. Woods was one of these and the world No 1's urgings, together with that of so many other fellow professionals, obviously assisted him in his decision. As a four-time veteran of the Ryder Cup, Clarke knows more than just about anyone what it entails and actually believes that it may have the ideal conditions in which to return.
"The fact that it's in Ireland and it's matchplay were huge factors for me," the Ulsterman said. "The great thing about matchplay is that if I make 10 somewhere then it doesn't make much difference. It is the Ryder Cup, don't get me wrong, and I don't want to be making 10 on any hole, but you can get away with a few mistakes."
Not that he is anticipating making many. One thing he has never lost faith in is his ability with a golf stick and he will be ready to do whatever Woosnam asks. "If he wants me to play five times, I'll play five times, there'll be no problem with that," he insisted. In fact, call it perspective but Clarke foresees no problem at all in the heat of the fight.
"You know, it is a game of golf amongst friends," he said. "We are all desperate to win but we know each other really well and that should be the spirit in which it is going to be played next week."
For his part, Clarke will be hoping so as his two boys Tyrone (8) and Conor (5) are likely to be in the weekend crowd, along with the rest of his and Heather's family. Naturally, Clarke feels an added weight of responsibility towards his sons and his description of his new daily routine said much about how he has set about handling it. "I've been practising every day, but also spending as much time with the kids as I could before they went back to school," he said. "Tyrone went back last Monday so I have been dropping them at school at 8:20, going to the golf course, going home and having some lunch with Conor and then going back to practise again and going back and picking Tyrone up at school and then going home and spending more time with them. Gee, I'm making myself sound like a saint.
"In truth, I just have been doing what anyone would in my position. Things are massively different to what they were before and at some stage I had to grow up and this is the perfect time for it. I have to do the right thing, both by my boys and by myself. Yeah, I have had to face up to a lot of tough things which fortunately a lot of people never have to face. And I feel I have come out of it a better person. I hope I have."
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