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.
What if you never win a major?
It will probably feel disappointing because I have always thought I have enough talent to win one. But I probably haven’t been as mentally strong as I should have been. And I think a lot of people will probably back that up. I’m pretty impatient. I want things done yesterday. And if they’re not, then why not? I am aware of it and I try to be more patient. I do win occasionally [smiles]. I’ve done everything I can to try to win a major. If I had been as mentally strong as Padraig [Harrington], I would have done much better.
Did you start out with the ambition to be World No.1?
No, I never started out thinking that I wanted to be No. 1. I started out because I enjoyed the game and I was reasonably good at it. I wanted to be a professional golfer who traveled the world trying to win tournaments. And I think I’ve done OK at that. In the Tiger Woods era in which I’ve played, being No. 1 has been pretty much unattainable. Having said that, Tiger has brought an awful lot to the game that few others have been able to do. The prize funds we are playing for and the quality of everything in golf is directly linked to Tiger. He has made it harder for us to win but it’s sweeter when we do. We should all be grateful to Tiger. He is probably the No. 1 sportsman in the world and we are very fortunate to have him in our sport.
How did you and Tiger become close?
We are pretty good pals but we are not in touch all the time. We initially met playing in the Open at Lytham [in 1996] and then later when he and I were both being coached by Butch Harmon I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with him and got to know him pretty well.
Do you see what he does and shake your head in disbelief?
We all do things differently. And he is better than most of us at nearly everything, although he doesn’t do it every day. But I relish the opportunities to play with and against him because you’ve got to test yourself against the best player in the world.
What’s the most pressure you’ve ever felt on a golf course?
First tee at the K Club in the  Ryder Cup. For obvious reasons. That was pressure.
That was just six weeks after Heather’s death. You seemed to handle it pretty well: drive of the day followed by a birdie.
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know how I managed to do it but I did. That was the most pressure by a long way.
Did the emotion of that moment surprise you?
I knew it would be difficult. But the reception I received was unbelievable.
How do you think the public sees you?
As somebody that has a good time. A normal bloke who is fortunate to play golf, sometimes well. I am lucky that I get warm receptions everywhere I go.
What characteristics do you dislike in others?
The inability to see the bigger picture. Sometimes people need to step back and see what’s really going on. I had to do that with my golf. But rudeness is my number one hate. “Please” and “thank you” are two of the easiest things in the world to say. I try to instill that in my two boys.
When you were a kid, did you dream of being famous and rich, driving fast cars and flying in jets?
Ah, the trappings of success. Probably. I’ve always been generous rewarding myself with things. I’ve always liked the cars, the wine and the cigars. Now more than ever. We’re only here once. You’ve just got to enjoy it. I don’t look at myself as being famous. I’m just a golfer. I just like to go to the pub and have a pint of Guinness. That’s me.
What’s the most you’ve ever paid for a cigar?
I wouldn’t want to say [smiles]. A lot. Cigars don’t really get that expensive but the wine can. Wine can get silly.
And you’ve gotten silly?
Yes [still smiling]. But I’m not going to say how much.
Having a private jet must be fun.
It makes life a lot easier. I can jump on a plane and get home to the boys. It works out that you gain an extra week at home per year. That’s massive. But it’s only a share in a jet. I don’t take it all the time.
Back to the Ryder Cup. What do you think you would have brought to the 2008 team?
Probably my sarcasm [smiles]. You know: been there, done that, relaxed, knowing what to expect.
Tiger texted Paul Azinger throughout the matches. Were you in touch with your guys?
Yes. I was keeping in touch with Lee [Westwood] and a few of the boys.
It looked like Lee missed you.
I missed being there with him. But I am sure Nick had thought everything through, and that’s the way it is.
You must be a shoo-in to captain Europe in the future.
Hopefully. If they invite me, I would enjoy that. I would stress the importance of sportsmanship. It’s a game. It’s not life or death. I hate gamesmanship. My philosophy is simple: play hard, try to win, then have a drink with your opponent afterward. That’s what golf — and life — is all about.
By Karl Morris, Clarke’s sports psychologist
On His Temper
“When Darren gets frustrated, it builds and builds. You can’t take out your frustrations on the game. Just compare Darren and Padraig Harrington. Darren is more talented but Padraig is much better at dealing with things when they go wrong. Darren, unfortunately, has relied too much on the ball controlling him. When he’s striking the ball beautifully, he’s fine. But when he isn’t, he finds it difficult to control himself.”
On His Work Ethic
“He is a massive perfectionist and that’s what makes him work so hard. But you can’t be a perfectionist playing golf. One of the biggest myths about Darren is that he doesn’t work hard enough. But his idea of a day off is to play 36 holes. Darren knows how good he is and, without question, he is the most gifted player I’ve ever seen.”
On His Potential
“If Darren ends his career without winning a major championship, then I think he will feel unfulfilled because he will know deep down that he was certainly capable. Whether it will turn him into an angry old man, I don’t know.”