British Open champion Darren Clarke was a bit bleary-eyed Tuesday as he began the first of four weeks of golf in Australia, South Africa, Dubai and Thailand.
Less than 24 hours after arriving from his home in “wet and windy” Portrush, Northern Ireland, he sweated through nine holes of practice at the Hyatt Regency Resort Course preparing for this week’s Australian PGA Championship on the subtropical Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane.
AUSTRALIAN PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
The Australian PGA Championship is one of the three crown jewels of professional golf in Australia.
Next up was a few hours for an afternoon catnap.
The global crisscrossing is a small price to pay for Clarke winning at Royal St. George’s in July, but just in case anyone had forgotten that, he had the Claret Jug with him Tuesday.
“I don’t take it everywhere, we take it to special places,” Clarke said. “It’s always nice to travel with, it’s one of those things that people never really get a chance to see it except on TV and in pictures. It was bent but it is straightened out a little bit now so it’s not too bad …”
With his manager Chubby Chandler sitting in the back of the room, Clarke said his life “hasn’t really changed” since his three-stroke victory at Sandwich, England, gave him his first major.
“As Chubby will tell you, I have led the life of a major champion before anyway, so nothing has really changed.” said Clarke, who enjoys a pint or two of Guinness when he’s finished playing and a cigarette or cigar while on the course.
“I am a little bit more in demand now than I was before, but it has all been good. If anything it has spurred me on to work harder than I ever have before, and I work pretty hard anyway.”
He’ll be traveling hard over the next month. This week, he’ll take on a strong Australian PGA field, which includes American Rickie Fowler making his first professional appearance Down Under -- Fowler won the Eisenhower Trophy world amateur title in Adelaide in 2008.
Presidents Cup players Bubba Watson, losing International Captain Greg Norman and his players Y.E. Yang, K.T. Kim, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley will also be in the field.
Then Clarke heads to South Africa for the Nedback Challenge at Sun City, followed by the European Tour’s season-ending Race to Dubai, and then to an Asian Tour stop in Bangkok the week before Christmas.
Clarke said he was impressed by the Coolum course. Defending champion Peter Senior, who plays on the Champions Tour in the United States, is not a big hitter.
“It’s a course where you don’t just hit a driver everywhere … where accuracy is used as opposed to just booming it,” Clarke said.
The 44-year-old Clarke admitted he feared his chance to win a major had passed him by.
“I had opportunities to win in the past, and I didn’t take them,” Clarke said. “I am not 22 or 23 anymore and so my chances of winning are going to be limited. But if I had a choice of the one I would want to win, that was the one I wanted. “It’s the oldest, it’s the biggest; it’s the best.”
Which explains why the Claret Jug is on this extended road trip with him, always carried on board and safely tucked away above him on the plane.
“It goes overhead mostly, but most of the times when I have flown before the captains have wanted to see it and all that sort of stuff, it’s had photographs taken in galleys,” Clarke says, smiling. “It doesn’t make a difference who they are, they are just amazed to have it in their hand and I feel good that I am giving people a chance to take a look at it.”