Having come back to earth, Clarke keeps expectations modest
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Darren Clarke found the major-championship victory he always wanted at last month's British Open, but the stocky Northern Irishman hasn't lost his since of humor.
"Obviously I'm a finely-tuned athlete, so it should not affect me that much," Clarke joked Tuesday about the prospects of playing in heat and humidity this week in the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
*Clarke is realistic about his chances of playing well in the Atlanta heat.
Photo by Getty Images*
It's often hot at the PGA Championship. In Dallas, in 1963, Jack Nicklaus had to hold the Wanamaker Trophy with a towel. The Georgia forecast is not as wicked as it could be for the dog days of August, but it still will be toasty. "The heat is going to be a massive, massive factor," said Clarke, whose program weight of 200 pounds might not hold up under serious investigation.
The diet that Clarke talked about starting at the British Open is on hold until next week. Anyway, he's been walking on air in the wake of his popular triumph at Royal St. George's despite a couple of weeks of bad golf (missed cut at the Irish Open and a T-68 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational).
"It's obviously been one for the old guys, as it were," said the 42-year-old Clarke, "and a lot of people have been very, very pleased to see it, which I'm grateful for. For one reason or another, the people seem to like me, so they have been shouting an awful lot and supported me, which has been good."
Although he is in possession of the claret jug, Clarke doesn't think that winning a major has changed him. "I would like to think it hasn't changed me at all," he said. "Hope it won't, and I don't think it will. I will say that I'm still a little bit tired. I've had no time off since the Open, so I'll be looking forward to a couple of weeks off after this week."
Clarke hit the ball poorly in nine holes of practice Tuesday morning, much like he did two days prior to the first round of the British Open, where he got an education in addition to a major title. "Patience and to never give up -- that's what it taught me," Clarke said. "I was very patient the whole week, [and] I have not been that often in the past. But you know, you never know what the game is going to give you. You never know what's around the corner."
Sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella helped Clarke realize that at the British Open. Now, Rotella has been working with Lee Westwood, Clarke's longtime friend who, at 38, is looking to win his first major championship.
"It's an avenue he has not explored in the past, and certainly working with Dr. Bob, it can't do any harm," Clarke said. "It can't be a negative effect, it can only be a positive one. Whether Lee sticks with it or not -- because he has always been very mentally strong anyway --we shall see. But I certainly don't think it will do him any harm whatsoever. It can only do him good."
Having already earned his first major, Clarke will be in a Thursday-Friday grouping with 2011's other Grand Slam winners: Charl Schwartzel and Rory McIlroy. Clarke has an awful track record in the PGA Championship -- in 12 appearances he has missed the cut eight times and had only one top-10 finish -- and is realistic about his chances this week given his fatique and current state of his ball-striking.
"If I can play my best, my best is good enough to contend and to win," Clarke said. "And if I don't play my best, I'm trying as hard as I can. So, we shall see. My expectations are pretty even-keel. If I play my best, I'll see how I get on. The game is quite fickle. You can play great one week and not so good the next week, and a couple of good breaks here or there makes a huge difference."
It would fit under the category of good karma instead of a good break, but Clarke does turn 43 on Sunday. Thirteen years ago, no one expected Mark O'Meara, who had never won a professional major, to win two Grand Slam events in a season at age 41, but that's exactly what he did.
-- *Bill Fields *