There’s a lot going on in Darren Clarke’s life right now. Just over ten months from now, the 47-year old Northern Irishman will lead the European Ryder Cup side into the biennial battle with the United States. Elder son Tyrone has just passed his driving test – “he has a little black box in the car, so he can’t go above 45mph for the next year.” And there’s the small matter of making a living on the links, something the former Open champion has done quite nicely since he turned professional in 1991.
“I don’t know what I am at the moment,” says Clarke, who this week is playing in his first Australian Open since 2008 at Royal Sydney. “I’m something in-between Ryder Cup captain and player – but probably more player than anything else, at least for now.
“I’m not sure how long I can keep playing in the run-up to the Ryder Cup. I want to play as long as I can. I’m still a player. And the Ryder Cup is not a full-time job at the moment. But there will come a time when the demands will increase to a point where I won’t be able to play.”
As the skipper of a side he has represented five times as a player and twice as an assistant to the team leader, Clarke will have many decisions to make over the coming months. But one he will not be making any time soon is naming his own vice-captains. Unlike his US counterpart, Davis Love – who has already appointed four of his five – the former World Match Play champion is in no hurry to tip his hand.
“I haven’t announced any vice-captains yet,” he confirms. “For one very good reason. To do so at this stage would mean offending people. If I ask someone now it means I don’t think he is going to make the team. I don’t want to do that. Maybe around Augusta I’ll feel out a few people to see what they think. That’s always been our way of doing things. The vice-captains have always been guys who are still active on tour and who will hopefully have a chance to be captain in the future.”
Speaking of which, Clarke was making positive noises regarding his own form, an aspect of his life that has been something of a mystery almost ever since he lifted the Old Claret Jug at Royal St. George’s in 2011. In the subsequent four and-a-bit years he has, amazingly for one so obviously gifted, failed to record even one top-ten finish on the European Tour.
Still, there has been a recent hint of resurgence. Only two weeks ago, Clarke finished runner-up in a MENA Tour event in the Middle East.
“My game is an enduring mystery to be honest,” he says with a shake of the head. “I’m not sure why I’m not dong better. But Matt Kuchar is my current inspiration. I’ve switched to his putting method. That has been my problem. I haven’t made a lot of putts for a while now. Which is frustrating. Maybe one of these weeks it will click. I am encouraged by that runner-up finish a fortnight ago. Yes, it was in a smallish event. But you still have to play well to get into contention.”
This would be a good week to do just that. As are so many around the world, Clarke is a big fan of the Australian Open.
‘I didn’t need much persuasion when the opportunity arose to come here,” he says. “I’ve played in a couple of Australian Opens and loved the experience both times. It’s one of the oldest events in the world and has a great history. I’d love to get my name on the Stonehaven Cup.”