Major waster makes unconscious effort to complete coming of age

Psychological help and personal change enabled underachiever finally to realise his potential. James Corrigan reports

How does a professional golfer win his first major at the age of 42 after 53 tournaments and 20 years of trying? Considering Darren Clarke had enjoyed exactly no sleep and the same amount of black coffee when meeting the media yesterday morning, this wasn't the time to be posing searching enquiries.

But at the after-Open party on Sunday night, Clarke delivered a honest assessment of where he had gone wrong before.

"I used to give myself airs and graces when I was a younger," said Clarke. "I have to admit I was a horrible twat. I wouldn't speak to you journalists if I'd had a bad round. I was rude and it wasn't right. I'd like to think I've learnt from my mistakes."

Of course, how a pro behaves towards golf writers is invariably irrelevant to how he performs on the course (eg Tiger Woods). But in the case of Clarke it was all part of the problem. The mist would descend and with it would go his form. In golfing parlance, he "was getting in his own way". Indeed, as recently as April, Clarke found Clarke an impossible hurdle.

"He was one shot behind going into the weekend in Morocco, shot an 81 and 77 to finish 77th and was thinking about giving the game up," said his manager, Chubby Chandler. "It was the lowest I'd ever seen him. I told Darren to go on holiday. He went away for three weeks, came back and won in Majorca."

Eight weeks later Clarke was winning in Kent, except this was no Iberdrola Open. This was "The" Open. Vindication, validation, verification... call it what you will. But whatever, Clarke could give the Vs to any number of doubters who had written him off a major waster.

"PATFW" – "prove all the fuckers wrong". It was the acronym with which Mike Finnigan, the performance coach Clarke sought out in the wake of his Agadir agony, enthused his new client. "Darren's shoulders were down, so Mike gave him this message to tell himself every day and that is exactly what he has done," said Chandler. "It was also important him meeting up with Dr Bob."

Dr Bob is Dr Bob Rotella, the famed sports psychologist who helped Padraig Harrington to three majors. Clarke and Rotella had worked with each other on and off for years, but hadn't done so for more than 18 months when they ran into each other on the eve of the Open. While Clarke's tee-to-green game had improved under Finnigan, his putting remained a seemingly insurmountable problem.

"Darren was tied up in knots," Rotella told The Independent yesterday. "He said he was so bad with his putter it was affecting his whole game. He told me: 'If I don't hit it to a foot, I'm not going to make any birdies.' And that was putting pressure on the rest of his game."

The good doctor had a cure. "I said: 'Darren, you're going to have to go unconscious'," explained Rotella, who spoke to Clarke for 20 minutes immediately before the start of all four rounds. "I told him I didn't want him to think about technique, I just wanted him to look where he wanted it to go and then hit it there, just like he did when he was 12. We do a million different things a day when we don't stop and think about it. Drinking a glass of water – 'how did you hit your mouth without thinking?' I used to work with stammerers. More than 98 per cent of them could talk when they were in their bathroom; it was just that little doubt in public which tied them up."

Never mind The King's Speech, soon this led to the champion's speech. Clarke and Rotella are in the process of finalising an agreement which will see them work together regularly. Both realise that unless he can replicate the Sandwich serenity, Clarke could be one and done as far as majors are concerned.

"I wouldn't think it's a one-off," said Rotella. "But can we get him to be in that frame of mind at the next tournament? If we can, then we'll find out if he can win another." Clarke agreed. "Chubby says it's only once every three years I get into the frame of mind to listen," he said. "Somehow I've got to get myself in the same mood as I was at the Open."

Thankfully, the challenge is a live one. Clarke now qualifies for the three American majors for the next five years and the Open until he is 60. Rotella feels the old "monkey off the back" cliché will also assist. "With some of the things that have happened to Darren it would be easy for him to think a black cloud was following him," said Rotella. "Now he can see that's not the case."

Rotella was referring mainly to the death of Clarke's wife, Heather, five years ago after a long illness. Of course, golf was way down the list of his priorities as he came to terms with being the sole parent to his two young sons. But, looking back, Chandler surmises: "Darren lost five or six years of his career." It was last year's decision to move from the English metropolis back to his Northern Ireland which triggered the reawakening. In his fianceé, Alison Campbell, he found a new life and on Royal Portrush he found his old touch.

"Moving back to Royal Portrush played a huge part in this victory," he said. "I lived in the centre of London and it wasn't conducive to playing links golf. This past winter I would be out playing with my mates three times a week in all kinds of weather. We might have a few pints before we played and a lot more when we came in, but it definitely helped over the weekend in the bad weather."

They call him "laid-back" in Portrush; a statement which would still be laughed out of the locker room. Clarke knows what he was and feels he has rectified the faults. "I definitely appreciate this more now than if it had happened to me 10 years ago," he said. "A decade ago I took an awful lot for granted as a professional golfer. I played well and won this and I achieved that, blah, blah, blah. But now I am much more switched on to everything that goes with the tournament, the sponsors, the fans, the other players, so I know what it means. I also appreciate that it's so much easier to win with a smile than a scowl."

It may seem a strange thing to say about a 42-year-old, but Clarke has come of age. He summed this up with one simple answer. How would the man who once owned a Ferrari with the boastful number plate of "DC60" be spending the huge windfall heading in his direction? "Been there, done that," replied Clarke. "I don't want to be that wanker who lives on top of the hill." Blessedly, Clarke is so much more than that now.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments