A story of hope and inspiration
Asked once about the responsibilities of being an artist and a public figure, Bob Dylan replied: 'What else can you do for people but inspire them and give them hope. You have to do it because you can.'
There was only one thing more unrelenting than the bad weather at last week's British Open at Royal St George's and that was the steely focus of Darren Clarke. He was truly inspiring. Playing in his 20th Open Championship, the 42-year-old native of Northern Ireland had never won a major championship and there was nothing in his recent form to suggest he ever would. But form often takes a beating when it meets unyielding desire and because of that Clarke is now not only the Open champion, he is the toast of the world of sports. And man, what a journey it's been.
Clarke unwittingly became the world's most famous widower close to six years ago when he made the putt to give Europe a victory over the US in the Ryder Cup, a scant four weeks after his wife passed away from cancer. There was no shortage of tears that day from all involved and most who watched.
But not long after the Ryder Cup in 2006 Clarke became fodder for the tabloids in the UK after admitting he was now involved with a woman who was a friend of both him and his wife and that while she was helping him get over his grief a relationship just sprung up. The news created a public backlash in some quarters before a beleaguered Clarke ended the relationship and attempted to get away from it all by hopping on a plane to Thailand to play for the European team against the Asian squad in the Royal Trophy.
He was understandably looking for some sanctuary in Asia from the media so I was fortunate he agreed to a 20-minute interview before the tournament began. Sitting on the terrace of the Amata Spring Country Club outside of Bangkok, he was friendly but guarded. He had admitted earlier he was kidding himself about getting involved in a romance, 'Because I wasn't ready for it. I wasn't done grieving, nowhere near it'. But now he seemed quite determined and resolute. 'I'm back at work now. Golf is still my job and I'm just very fortunate that I love my job.'
Of course his focus was admirable but his attitude that day also seemed as much denial as defiance. But then again, what do I know about these things? Well as it turns out, more than I ever wanted to. Almost nine months to that day my wife suddenly passed away and in the months following her death I would be lying if I said I didn't think about that day sitting on the terrace with Clarke. The denial, the notion that I will come through this horrible ordeal soon enough, is a default instinct in the early days. But as time elapses you eventually get beaten down by the reality of your loss and come to realise the stark truth that you don't control grief, it controls you.
Clarke went on to play in a number of tournaments but not particularly well. His form slipped badly and it often seemed like he had no desire for anything, let alone his job on the golf course. After a while a number of pundits speculated we may not see a competitive Clarke again because he had been in a state of depression over the loss of his wife. And how is this news, exactly? I've been told by people who make a living analysing the human mind that depression is basically a waking dream.
And I suppose it would follow that if you were living a waking dream then this trance-like state is a convenient way of disengaging yourself from reality because you simply don't want to be bothered by it. When, and if, you arouse yourself from that waking dream is entirely up to the individual. Some people sadly never do and spend the rest of their days wallowing in pity and the cocoon of depression. Others clearly don't.
The rough-hewn fairways of Royal St George's often look like a lunar landscape and while there may be more than 7,000 yards of grass covering this course, there is a 10-foot strip on the greens where major tournaments are won and lost. It's imperative to drain the majority of putts you see from that distance, particularly on the nerve-wracking final day. Clarke did just that on Sunday until the outcome was no longer in doubt and that, more than any sort of divine intervention, is why he won.
He's engaged now and his fiancee was waiting with his parents to greet him after his huge win. But his eyes stayed dry and his focus unrelenting while he acknowledged the past and relished the future.
Make no mistake: Darren Clarke controlled the moment much more than the moment controlled him. And how perfect was that? Because like the man said, what else can you do for people but inspire them and give them hope.