PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Darren Clarke reflects on 2011 win at The Open at Royal St. George's
July 14, 2021
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- July 14, 2021
- Darren Clarke holding the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 2011. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Darren Clarke always seems to have a gleam in his eye, like he knows something you don’t.
He has devoted himself to PGA TOUR Champions, and after a period of adjustment has won twice there.
But he’s in England this week, more specifically at Royal St. George's. It is the sight of his greatest glory, the 2011 Open Championship.
Clarke, 52, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his only major victory. He claimed the Claret Jug with a three-shot victory over Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. That it came in the one tournament that meant the most to him was the icing on the cake, or perhaps more appropriately the head on his pint.
“My fondest memory of that day? The walk up the 18th fairway from my second shot to the green with a three-shot lead knowing I was about to win the tournament I always dreamt of winning as a kid,” Clarke said.
Clarke is a native of Northern Ireland. The Open Championship, golf’s oldest major, is the pinnacle of the game to anyone who grows up there. He had come close before, but there was just a vibe that time around.
“I played really well the week before at the Scottish Open but had a bad last day,” Clarke said. “But I was hitting the ball really well. My ball-striking was very solid. I was very relaxed, very calm.
“I played really well on Saturday. The crowd support was huge that week. Lifting the Claret Jug … that ovation walking into the arena at 18 … it touched me greatly. I could feel the support all the way around. I was able to control my emotions and do what I needed to do.”
That’s what it takes to win majors -- control. Control of your swing, and control of your mind. A player can’t shrink from any given moment, nor can he allow a bad break to linger. And at Royal St. George's, everyone who tees it up is going to get his share of bad breaks.
Clarke is fond of saying no course in The Open rotation has fairways as undulating as those of RSG. A drive can hit in the middle of the fairway and wind up in the rough, on the right or the left depending on the wind and the slope of the fairway. And golfers tend to run a little hot when good shots are not rewarded.
“To play links well, the more often you’re hitting from the fairway the easier it is,” Clarke said. “You have to control your ball into some of those greens. And hitting the fairways is pretty tough at St. George's because of the slopes of the fairways. So you have to drive it really well. Be smart and keep it in play.
“Your iron play has got to be really on. People who don’t play links try to fly the ball around. The really experienced players use the ground a lot. Chasing balls in, using the ground, using the slopes … is something you get from playing links. It (the winner) will be somebody who’s used to playing links. If it’s difficult conditions the lower-ball hitters will be favored.”
Clarke is 14th in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. He posted a top 10 at the DICK’S Sporting Goods Open before his T28 at the U.S. Senior Open last week.
He seems to be enjoying himself greatly on PGA TOUR Champions, and what it has done for him is given him a shot of confidence. Clarke knows how good the level of play is and that it takes very good play over three days (or four) to win.
He’d love to recapture past glory at Royal St. George's, but he also can lean on the fact he’s heard these magic words before.
“‘Champion golfer of the year’ … there’s not many better words in golf,” Clarke said.