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Clarke's paid his dues

No one deserves a major; they are earned by good play and better fortune. But if anyone has learned hard lessons and had his heart broken enough to qualify as deserving the honor of a major championship, says Jim Huber, it must be Darren Clarke.

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A victory this week wouldn't come anywhere close to paying Darren Clarke back for the loss of his wife to cancer, says Jim Huber, but it would be a small start. (Getty Images)

By Jim Huber, PGA.com Contributor

SANDWICH, England -- I am given a canvas here, white and stark and full of only my imagination, and across its breadth I am tempted to paint the portrait of a good man beaten by the gods of fate.

I see the grey hair plastered by the rain and the weary eyes squinting into the English distance, at what we can only imagine. I see the curl of the smile and hear the depth of the laughter and want to give you the likeness of Darren Clarke after this third round of the 140th Open Championship, for fear something will happen and his story will become old news by this time tomorrow.

No one deserves to win a championship. They are earned by good play and better fortune and the implosion of those around them. But say, just for laughs, that someone actually does deserve to have his name etched across the bottom of the Claret Jug. Dues paid, life’s lessons beaten into his brains, heart broken, I give you Darren Clarke.

I want him to win but I would want to be in another room when his thoughts turn to Heather, for it dearly hurts to see a man crumble in tears. To the woman who loved him all those years and bore him the sons and who fought so valiantly for so long against the dreaded cancer.

This victory would not come anywhere close to paying him back for that loss, for he and the boys will live their entire lives dealing with that.

But it would be a small start.

He has said that if he happens to win on Sunday, he “may not be sober for a month” and you can surely bet on that. Indeed, the entire little stretch of Heaven known as Northern Ireland might spend those same weeks swimming in Guinness. As it did in June of ’10 when Graeme McDowell won the American Open and as it did just a month ago when young Rory McIlroy followed suit.

In fact, it was Clarke who withdrew from a European Tour event just to be able to join in McIlroy’s party the week after Congressional.

And so the portrait I dabble at is of a Man in Half, his career a misbegotten series of trials in which he won a dozen European titles and starred in Ryder Cups but had thought age might be catching up, his life split by the devastating loss of his wife. 

From his image comes the voice, quivering and brave, a wonderful lilt so full of his birthplace.

“C’mon, lads,” it seems to say, “let the old man have his moment.”

Paint it, quickly, for fear reality will render it Saturday’s news.