As the scene of his only major triumph, Royal St George’s will always hold a special place in Darren Clarke’s heart and the memories have come flooding back on his return this week.
It’s a decade since Clarke stunningly triumphed at The 140th Open Championship at the age of 42 – his 20th attempt at winning the Claret Jug.
He returns this week as a defending Champion of sorts and the Northern Irishman has enjoyed reminiscing about that three-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
“This course offers me some of the greatest memories I’ve had in the game,” said Clarke.
“It’s obviously great to go back to any course you’ve won on but to come back to an Open venue I’ve played well on and won is even more special.
“It’s a different golf course now, a little bit softer so it’s a different proposition. There won’t be so much chasing the balls onto the greens, more flying them in there.
“Ten years is a long time – lots of Opens have come and gone. Coming back as the guy who won it last time is a huge privilege though.
“All I wanted to do growing up was to get my name on the Claret Jug and I did that here, so it will always be very special to me.
“This is almost as tough a golf course as we play on The Open rota. I was going round the course this week thinking ‘how did I ever win here’ with the breeze. But I did, so it will always be one of my favourite golf courses.”
PRACTISING WITH RORY
Clarke played a practice round on Wednesday morning with fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, who is looking to win a first major in seven years this week.
There was a suggestion that McIlroy could be picking Clarke’s brain on how to succeed at Royal St George’s but the 52-year-old laughed that off, while also stating his belief that it’s only a matter of time until the younger man scales golf’s greatest heights again.
“Who am I to give Rory McIlroy suggestion on what he should or shouldn’t be doing?” chuckled Clarke.
“In saying that, I’ve been frustrated for the majority of my career and you’ve just got to believe in your own ability and your own talent. That’s the bottom line.
“It’s been a while since he won one but he’s unquestionably got the talent to win more. There’s no questioning his talent – he’s one of, if not the most naturally gifted player in the world.
“It’s a fine line in professional golf between the amount you do on technique and the amount you do on the mental side.
“Everyone here obviously has incredibly technique, it’s the guys who are stronger mentally who normally come out on top.
“If I was Rory, with his amount of talent, hell yes I’d be frustrated not winning tournaments. But the flip side is, with that talent it’s only a matter of time before he wins again.”
PADRAIG COULD GO WELL
Clarke was also asked about the prospects of Padraig Harrington this week, with the 49-year-old having hit an impressive spell of form this season, including a T4 finish at the PGA Championship.
And he refused to rule out the Irishman adding a third Claret Jug to his trophy cabinet come Sunday evening.
“You look at Padraig – he was right up there in his driving distance that they keep track of on the range,” mused Clarke.
“He’s got the experience – if you were to pick any tournament in the world where an older guy could take on the young guns, a links and an Open Championship would be the one.
“It tests you mentally – that little bit of experience and guile helps you. And there’s not many people in the world that have more of that than Padraig Harrington.”