One of the world's top golfers and Ryder Cup star
If anyone is vying for the title of Northern Ireland’s richest sportsman, then golfer Darren Clarke has to be several fairways ahead of the rest.
Based on his career winnings to date, the Dungannon man who is renowned for his love of sports cars and cigars, has few financial worries.
Darren Clarke turned professional in 1990 at the age of 22. In 1992, he completed an incredible round of 60 in the European Monte Carlo Open, followed by his first European tournament win in the Alfred Dunhill Belgian Open in 1993. That particular score card was posted again in the 1999 Smurfit European Open, making Clarke the first European Tour player to achieve this feat. His car registration reads DC 60.
Clarke was also the first European to win a World Golf Championships event, namely the Accenture Match Play tournament at La Costa Resort and Spa in February 2000. His reward for victory in the 36 hole final was $1m and the adoration of the American public for taming Tiger Woods. Another huge payday came at the 2003 WGC NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Ohio. Clarke claimed a four shot victory and the $650,000 first prize from Jonathan Kaye. Woods faded into fourth place.
Alongside Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, Clarke has done much to re-establish the reputation of Irish golfers. Clarke’s 2001 victory in the Smurfit European Open at the K Club was the first European tour success by an Irishman on home soil since John O’Leary won the Irish Open at Portmarnock, 1982.
Clarke is also a team player. He featured prominently in Europe’s Ryder Cup victories over the United States in Valderrama in 1997, and at The Belfry in 2002.
However, there have been moments of despair during Clarke’s career, and self-doubt has deprived him of more tournament wins. Clarke has employed the services of psychologist Bob Rotella and coach Butch Harmon to iron out these aspects of his game.
In autumn 2003, a late surge from Clarke resulted in his victory at the inaugural Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters at Clandeboye, Bangor. After handing in his card, his first act was to donate the £25,000 winner's cheque to the Darren Clarke Foundation, set up to help the development of junior golf throughout Ireland.
As he enters his fourteenth season on the professional circuit, Clarke has all the riches he could ever want. However he still craves the moment when he will walk the final fairway at the Open Championship with victory in his sights, taking applause from the packed galleries. The last time an Irish winner was saluted in this way was in 1947, when Fred Daly held off Sam Snead at Hoylake to win by one shot. Darren Clarke’s dream may become reality in the not too distant future.
© Padraig Coyle 2004