Darren Clarke is a man who has endured genuine personal tragedy. Japan is a country that has been through one horror after another in recent months and is still reeling from the natural disasters that have rocked it to the core.
There is nothing that can happen to bring back Clarke’s wife Heather, who died from breast cancer five years ago, leaving him to raise their two sons who were 7 and 5 at the time. There is certainly nothing that can wipe away the death and the suffering caused in Japan by the earthquake and the tsunami that ripped through the country earlier this year.
But Sunday gave those touched by the tragedies a moment to smile and to believe that life can be redemptive.
Clarke’s victory in the British Open, 10 years after he last seriously contended in a major championship, was uplifting not only to him and his family and Northern Ireland, but to everyone in the game of golf.
Few players in golf are better-liked than Clarke. He has always been outgoing and funny and self-deprecating. He was always considered a major talent. He led the British Open for three rounds in 1997, and three years later, he easily beat Tiger Woods in the World Match Play final. While he won often around the world, he could never quite get to the finish line in a major.
He was, however, a Ryder Cup stalwart for Europe. Six weeks after Heather’s death in 2006, encouraged by friends and family to play, he won all three matches he played for Ian Woosnam’s team. The memory of the entire European team crowding around Clarke while he wept on Woosnam’s shoulder after his singles victory still lingers.
But the days when Clarke was a factor on the world stage appeared to have come and gone. At 42, he had become the respected elder, a mentor to younger Ulsterman such as 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and this year’s Open champion Rory McIlroy. Even though Clarke won a tournament in Europe a few weeks ago, it had been 10 years since he had finished in the top 10 in a major.
Somehow, it all came together at Royal St. George’s. Whatever it was — his superb ball-striking in difficult conditions; the inability of Phil Mickelson or Dustin Johnson to make a run at him on the back nine on Sunday or that shot that ran between two bunkers on the ninth hole Sunday — something happened to Clarke and to the British Open and to golf, and it was all good.
How Clarke held his emotions together making that last walk up the 18th fairway is anybody’s guess.
Chances are good that once he had a quiet moment to himself, he shed a few tears thinking about Heather.
“I’m sure if she were here,” he said, “she’d be telling me, ‘I told you so.’ ”