Debate: Clarke’s Controversy
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

A match made in heaven... or hell (also known as Co.Tyrone)?

I’m sure you’ve all come into contact with coverage of Darren Clarke’s epic post-Open Championship bender in some way, shape or form over the last fortnight, but I doubt you read much about the disdain with which it was viewed in certain corners of the Irish society.

Quite a few felt the Northerner stretched the boundaries of good taste during his victory speech at Royal St. George’s (he waited a matter of seconds before saluting the black stuff), and essentially bid them farewell over the course of the succeeding days, with print and digital coverage of the celebrations devolved into a rolling log of his drinking locations and impromptu interviews.

As an island fighting hard to drag its permissive attitude to alcohol into the twenty-first century, Ireland found itself particularly sensitive to the coded messages to be read in Clarke’s behaviour.

Hackneyed contrivance or an innocent bit of craic (definition here)? As a society, we just couldn’t make up our minds.

Here are journalists Conor Pope and Brian O’Connell debating the issue in last week’s Irish Times:

O’Connell: How Clarke engages with alcohol in his private life is his business. The issue I have is that he introduces alcohol into a public forum. Clarke’s insensitivity when it comes to the alcohol problems of Ireland and Britain troubles me…

It bothered me in 2006 when he downed a pint of Guinness in one after the Ryder Cup victory, and the subsequent image made many front pages. The insinuation was this is what you do when you are celebrating in Ireland: you drink in an abnormal way. I had a similar unease last Monday morning when Clarke arrived at his press conference after a long session, apparently slurring his words and detailing the quantity of alcohol he had drunk…

Pope: Not even Jesus had a problem with people celebrating with a few drinks, and for thousands of years before the famous feast at Cana, alcohol had been inextricably linked with joyous occasions.

Clarke won the British Open, an enormous achievement for any golfer. So he went out with his mates, popped a few champagne corks, went drinking and had fun. To suggest his celebration should not have so publicly involved alcohol in case it set a bad example for the rest of us – or, heaven forbid, our children – is a ludicrous and po-faced position worthy of John Calvin at his grumpiest.”

O’Connell’s comments may seem a little precious, sanctimonious even, but the nature of Clarke’s run-in with police on the eve of the Irish Open does little to strengthen the “he was just having a laugh” side’s argument.

There’s the sort of celebration brought on by euphoria and then there’s Clarke’s walking, talking testament to permissiveness and outdated machismo.

Conor Nagle