Raising a glass to a true golfing great

I’m delighted to see the resurgence in the golf game of Darren Clarke after the Northern Irishman finished fourth in the Joburg Open in South Africa at the weekend.

The impressive finish follows his third-placed finish at the South African Open just before Christmas and represents a huge improvement for the golfer who many believe to be one of the most naturally gifted on tour.

Although I have never met Darren, he strikes me as a thoroughly decent bloke and someone who I would enjoy drinking a couple of pints with down the pub.

Countless column inches have been written about the anguish the Ulsterman has been through following the death of his wife Heather from cancer in August 2006 and it is hardly surprising that his game fell to pieces following that devastation.

However, I was reminded of the courage of the man while reading an excellent article in the Times by Peter Dixon.

Just a few short weeks after Heather’s death, Clarke teed it up in The Ryder Cup, fittingly on Irish soil at the K Club. While lesser men would have stepped aside and relinquished their position, Clarke drew on all his strength and sent his first tee-shot flying down the centre of the fairway to spectacular acclaim.

However, I suspect that Herculean effort – which saw him win three points out of three to help Europe to a record win over The United States – depleted Clarke’s resources and he subsequently tumbled out of the world’s top 10 to a low of 229 in the world rankings.

The fact that he is now back on the way up despite almost celebrating his 40th birthday is an undoubted testament to the man and I would love to see him hit the heights again and qualify for The Ryder Cup at Valhalla in September.

Whether his stocks have been sufficiently replenished to mount such a monumental comeback I wouldn’t like to say but I’m certain that we will be enjoying his talents on tour for a good few years to come and he won’t have lifted his last trophy.

One thing I can guarantee is that if I’m ever lucky enough to meet the man in person, there’ll be a pint or two in the tap for him.