Oct
20
2011
Give It a Rest, Darren: Why the Open Champion Needs to Shut Up About Drink
By Conor Nagle under British Open

Darren Clarke: is that smile starting to feel a little strained?

Darren Clarke’s performances during the post-round press conferences at this week’s Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda were fairly predictable.

There were some remarks about  his play– frustration, inconsistency, bafflement– gestures towards his increasingly settled family life (“My fiancée and family is here, so I’m going to have a vacation istead of going back home”) and, as has become obligatory, throwaway comments about his drinking habits:

“I’m looking forward to a very bad hangover in the morning.”

Quite apart from the fact that this statement simply couldn’t be factually accurate (in the literal, Jamie Redknapp* sense of interpretation, anyway), it succeeded in nudging Clarke’s post-Open celebratory grace period towards the three-month mark.

We’ve had nearly 12 weeks of Guinness references, bragging, public intoxication, and questionable use/misuse of the Claret Jug.

As the Golden Boy of Irish golf, its “people’s champion”, Clarke has been able to rely on the patience and indulgence of supporters in a way few of his peers ever have. An explosive talent, brutally charismatic, his personality and ability have, in the public eye, always been presented as a single, indissoluble whole.

One was the logical consequence of the other.

It’s a tendency that has always occluded his failings– petulance, volatility– and, at times, even transmuted them into positives, emblems of essential Darren-ness.

He drives a yellow Ferrari with a personalised numberplate? That’s not ostentation; it’s Darren.

He publishes a lengthy article about Rory McIlroy on his website the day after his lifelong rival and compatriot, Padraig Harrington, wins the Open Championship? That’s not bitterness; it’s just Darren looking out for his protégé.

He  likes to talk about getting drunk all the time? Increasingly, that’s not a tiresome one-note performance, it’s just Darren being Darren.

And therein lies the problem.

Clarke’s win at Royal St. George’s succeeded in reintroduced him to the golfing world after an absence of over five years, a period during which the memory of his pivotal role in the European Tour’s renaissance had been reduced to little more than a caricature, a shorthand sketch of a hard-living millionaire playboy.

It was, and remains, a grossly reductive lens through which to view such a complex and contradictory public figure, but it’s one the player himself has had few qualms about reinforcing.

Whether born of a lingering insecurity about the legitimacy of his claim to golf’s most prestigious prize, or simply a desire to keep pace with the McDowells and McIlroys of the golfing world, the Northerner’s binge-drinking theatrics have come to define his return to the sport’s top flight.

As harmless a development as that seems, there comes a point, particularly in the absence of tournament-winning form, beyond which Clarke’s determined pursuit of the good life threatens to reveal itself as something altogether more sinister: a rhetorical crutch on which to hang a decade’s worth of anxieties and insecurities.

Indeed, since the Open, his machismo– all the skulled pints, the grumbled, hungover interviews– has, through sheer force of repetition, become something feverish, compulsive and, ultimately, insincere.

For a man in his position, struggling to cope with the twin demands of fatherhood and an uncertain professional future, alcohol appears to offer a cheap rhetorical out: both a shrug in the direction of past glories and an excuse for future failures.

In reality, though, it hinders the expression of his talent and, in doing so, robs him of a claim to professional dignity. Darren Clarke has a compelling story to tell, no doubt, but much to the detriment of his sporting legacy, its one he seems intent on keeping to himself.

Conor Nagle

Reproduced with permission from The Score.