The cheeky grin is back on Darren Clarke's face. It's Wednesday morning at the celebrity-studded Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews, and the 40-year-old Northern Irishman has been enjoying himself. "I always meet up with Arthur early in the week," he says, referring to his frothy pal Arthur Guinness. "But my relationship with him ended on Monday night because there is serious golf to be played." Clarke's work hard, play hard attitude has made him one of the game's most endearing players, a golfer of the people who wouldn't entirely surprise you if he strolled into your local bar and bought you a pint. When Clarke's wife Heather died of cancer in 2006, his fans grieved with him. When Nick Faldo denied Clarke, twice a winner in '08, a spot on the Ryder Cup team, his fans seethed for him. Still, Clarke has endured. Though he's still adjusting to life as a widower and single father of two sons, his world has started to return to an "even keel," he says. As has his game. "There are more wins in me," he says. "I am a long way from being done yet."
Sitting out the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1995 must have stung.
I watched every shot on television and even had my laptop by my side switched on to the live scoring. I never realized how good it is to watch. But it was tough having to sit there and not be able to do anything.
After winning twice in '08, did you think you had locked up one of Faldo's two captain's picks?
My biggest regret was not playing well enough to qualify automatically. But I felt I had a really good chance to get picked. Especially knowing that the captain had said earlier in the year that he was planning on picking people on form and was paying no attention to the rankings. It's black and white. That's what he said. So obviously with my winning the Dutch [KLM] Open one week before his team was finalized, the timing was pretty good. And it was the manner in which I won, too. Going head-to-head against Henrik [Stenson], one of the best players in the world, and I won by four shots. So I thought I had done enough to get a pick. But, you know, Nick did it his way, and that's the way it is. He always does, he always did, and he always will.
Legend has it that you keep a list of names of people who have crossed you your Black Book, right?
Ah, yes [smiles]. The Black Book. There aren't that many people in there at all. There are a few who have crossed the line and if I think it's unjustified, I've let them know. We golfers get rewarded for playing well and we get a lot of good press. But we also get a lot of bad press. That's fine; it's part of the job. If I've played like a dick, I deserve to get slagged off. But when a few of them get personal and say things that are factually incorrect and have a go at me for no reason, then I take exception. I'm pretty fair. We've all got jobs to do. But there's a line.
Is there a way out of the Black Book?
I do forgive over time.
Do you approach the sinners or do they have to seek you out?
They'll find out [smiles].
Is there an actual black book?
No, it's all in here [points to his head]. There are really not that many names in it. There are only two.
So name them and shame them.
They know who they are. That's all that's important [laughs].
You're 40 now. Are you content with your accomplishments?
I would have hoped to have won more tournaments by this stage. But, you know, Heather got ill right at the time when I was winning a lot. I'm not using Heather's illness as an excuse. But it's a fact my focus was much more on Heather's health.
Have your goals changed over the last couple of years since Heather died?
I still want to win so, no, they haven't.
How long did it take for your life to return to normal after she died?
Well, what's normal? It's still not normal. It can't be normal when you haven't got the mother of your kids and my wife at home. I was starting to get back to an even keel probably at the start of this year. It was a long time. There were some dark moments. God knows things have been difficult for me, but it has been even harder for the boys. It has been tough having to deal with things. And tough being thrown in to being 100 percent responsible for my two kids. I had to start making the decisions for everything for the boys. I'm very lucky to have the help of Eddie and Alice, a Czech couple who have been with us for more than 10 years, since Heather and I moved to England. They live in the annex of the house and have known the boys since they were babies. Without them and my family I couldn't do what I'm doing. Making the day-to-day decisions for the boys has been a shock to the system. You don't realize how much wives have got to do until you've got to do it yourself.
Did you feel angry?
Probably. I'm sure anybody would. You know, Why Heather? Why? Why? Why? There are no answers to that.
Do you still feel the British Open is your best chance to win a major?
Probably, because of my affinity for links golf. I always enjoyed it growing up playing Royal Portrush and all the courses in Ireland. It feels like a links course should suit my game best.