It is a difficult thing, to do something as inconsequential as play golf, shortly after the death of your wife. But on Friday Darren Clarke took on that difficult thing, played in the Ryder Cup and emerged victorious in every way.
He first survived a barrage of well-meant sympathy from the huge crowds and then remained sufficiently sensible, with the help of his good friend and Friday’s fourball partner, Lee Westwood, to turn back the challenge of one of America’s stellar pairings, Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.
Europe won by one hole and as fate surely dictated it was Clarke who produced the shot that won the hole that went on to win the match. It came at the 16th, 555 yards of devilry that is often called the greatest par-5 in Ireland. Clarke was 254 yards from the pin for his second shot which, with a carry over the River Liffey that runs in front of the green, is a distance beyond most mortals. But Clarke is one of the longer hitters and, as the match was all square at the time, it seemed to him worth the gamble.
“I decided I could cut a little five-wood in there,” the Ulsterman said, “and I hit almost the perfect shot.”
He carried the Liffey OK, hit the green and ran just to the side of the green, pin high. There had been tumultuous cheers for the Ulsterman as he walked to first tee; now they were repeated for the spectators knew that shot was good enough to win the hole, which it did.
Two holes later, the match was won and rarely, if ever, can one man have been so much hugged by so many. It had started on the first tee.
“Both Chris [DiMarco] and Phil [Mickelson] gave me a hug,” said Clarke “and that’s what the Ryder Cup is about, not animosity.”
Asked if he had been able to control his emotions at that point, Westwood, a solid Worksop man, cut in. “Oh yeah,” he said, “he only goes and smashes his tee shot 340 yards down the middle and birdies the hole.”
There was more of the same at the 18th. A hug from his partner, from his opponents, the caddies, sundry officials and even Mickelson’s wife Amy.
Somehow it felt removed from cheap sentimentality. Clarke was honouring his wife, Heather, who throughout her long illness had wanted him to go and play.
And the big man himself? How did he feel on the 18th? “I experienced emotions,” he said, “that I hope none of you ever have to have.”