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An Interview With: Darren Clarke

JULIUS MASON: Ladies and gentlemen, Darren Clarke playing in his seventh PGA Championship. Darren, welcome to Wisconsin and Whistling Straits. Opening comments and we'll go to Q&A afterwards, please.

DARREN CLARKE: The course was amazing yesterday. I was very impressed by it. I didn't realize there was that many par 6s on one golf course. It was certainly very interesting. You usually have one or two holes every week where you could take lots of high numbers, but I think there's about ten this week where you can take lots of high numbers. It's going to be a very, very difficult test this week.

Q. Can you describe the weather conditions that you guys played in yesterday, and the weather, how it may change throughout the week and how that could affect the way the golf course plays?

DARREN CLARKE: We played with the wind on No. 1, which I believe is the prevailing wind. One of the par 3s was pitching wedge, I think every other one was 2-iron. We had 15, which is a par 4, 518 yards straight into the wind. There's two or three other par 5s, I believe, that are around 500 yards, which I think one or two of them played into the wind, also, I can't remember what they did.

But the course played very tough yesterday, but very fair, very demanding. I think if the wind blows that direction, it will be a very good, fair test. If it blows the other direction, I don't know yet because I haven't played it any other time apart from yesterday, so it would be unfair to comment.

Q. You opened up by saying the course is amazing, but you said it in such a way that you seem to be impressed by it. How important is it to get a course that fits your eye and makes you feel comfortable almost straight away?

DARREN CLARKE: Well, I think -- I don't know if you've been out there or not or have wandered around; it's somewhat like home. It's got that feel to it; it's got that look. It's like a links golf course, albeit with slightly different grasses on the fairways and on the greens. I do think it's a fantastic golf course.

It's going to be a huge premium on driving the ball this week, which lots of PGAs and U.S. Opens and the majors sometimes tend to take the driver out of your hand, but this week is definitely going to put it in your hand. So, albeit, it's going to be a very stern test, but I'm really looking forward to getting out and having a go.

How long is it? 7,500? Thankfully we are playing off some of the forward tees, otherwise we'd have been out there for a long time.

I noticed a few others set back 40 or 50 yards. I hope we don't go back to them. (Laughing).

Q. How close to a real links course like back home is it?

DARREN CLARKE: Pretty close. The fairways aren't as firm and fast as they are, and the greens the greens are different because there's more slope in them. You stand on some of the tees and take a look at some of those, it looks as if you're playing in Ireland or Scotland or wherever on a links golf course. It is amazing what they have achieved on this bit of land.

Q. Any links at home in mind?

DARREN CLARKE: If you try and remember all of the most difficult holes of all the courses at home, put them all together and I think you'll have this one here.

Q. I heard you said after yesterday's practice that it was a par 77?

DARREN CLARKE: Yes, it was very tough. 17, for example was a 2-iron to the front flag. If you miss it left at all you could be dead. You could be putting the ball in your pocket and moving on to the next tee, it's that difficult. Lots of holes are right on the edge of the lake, the par 5s where you try to pick up shots, are not as easy to make birdies on as what perhaps some of the other courses par 5s are. So it's going to be tough. Everyone is going to make bogeys because your chances of making birdies are not that many.

Q. Being so linksy, should it help the Europeans, given a European has not won this title since 1930 and even then he was only half-Scottish?

DARREN CLARKE: I would like to say yes. I hope so. It's certainly got that linksy type of look but it's going to be somebody whose ball-striking is going to have to be seriously good this week. They will not be able to scramble this week and get around this golf course. It's too difficult.

Q. Sort of the getting to know this place type of factor, the apprehension going into this, at one what point this week does that leave?

DARREN CLARKE: Sunday night (laughing). I think I had one practice round yesterday, I practiced a little bit yesterday. I had one practice round yesterday, and I was so tired after I played, I had about ten hours' sleep last night, because you're trying to figure out where to hit it, what to do, it's up and down hills, it's a very demanding golf course. As you say, you want to get some local knowledge, but at the same time, a lot of practice rounds out there is going to wear you down. I think you have to save as much energy as possible for the tournament this week.

Q. Is it more a mental test or a physical test?

DARREN CLARKE: Probably more a mental one, because you've got a few fairways where you're heading out over -- the fairways are a little bit blind where you're aiming over bunkers and things like that where you can't see the ball land, so whenever you're doing that, it's always tough to really commit yourself to where you need to hit it. And any misses this week are going to be seriously highlighted.

Q. How do you think you physically would have handled this test 17 months ago?

DARREN CLARKE: I don't know. Thankfully I wasn't here 17 months ago.

Q. Would you have been fit enough for it do you think?

DARREN CLARKE: Probably not.

Q. Does it make all that you've done recently pay off then?

DARREN CLARKE: I don't know. We'll let you know at the end of the week. We'll see. But it's a very physically demanding golf course.

Q. You seem remarkably cheerful about the challenge that you're facing this week.

DARREN CLARKE: I had two weeks off.

Q. What did you do to make yourself cheerful?

DARREN CLARKE: Nothing. I was cheerful shooting 78 the last time you saw me. Thank you very much (laughter).

Q. Have you been working with Jos in the interim?

DARREN CLARKE: No. I've done nothing.

Q. Is there a sense that the challenge you're facing this week takes away from the pressure of playing in a major championship, taking on the course itself rather than the tournament, as a distraction?

DARREN CLARKE: The course is going to be that demanding that if you start worrying about what anybody else is doing, it's going to eat you up.

I would certainly like to be finishing in red figures this week and take my chances.

Q. These are two big weeks for you given this is a major and you're defending next week in Akron, Ohio. How beneficial do you think will it be to have Billy Fester back on the bag?

DARREN CLARKE: I'm very excited about Billy, it's the first time back out together, how long has it been, a year and a half or something? It's just back to like it was before. I enjoyed the company yesterday and I'm looking forward to the two of us working together again.

Q. How much influence does he have over you?

DARREN CLARKE: He knows me better than anybody else that's worked for me before because he's worked for me in the past. I relied heavily on him in the past and I'll do the same again, I'm sure. He's looking forward to it, as am I.

Q. What characteristics does he have as a caddie that are invaluable to you, to you specifically?

DARREN CLARKE: To me specifically? Well, he knows me that well, and he doesn't say an awful lot, but whenever he does, he's usually right. He's right more often than I am, so that's why I listen to him.

Q. What kind of an attitude does he adapt towards you? Does he speak more like master than the servant at times?

DARREN CLARKE: Not really, no. Because he's worked for me for so long, he knows what sort of shots I see and what sort of shots I like to play. That makes it much easier for him to decide or help me decide what club it is, because he knows my game so well, better than anybody.

Q. If he sees that familiar red mist approaching on the horizon, how does he react to you?

DARREN CLARKE: When is the last time you saw that? When did you see that last?

Q. I'm not referring to your --

DARREN CLARKE: He's always been able to help me before, so I'm sure he'll do the same again this time, whatever he does.

Q. Just curious, you've altered your preparation; sometimes you played a week before a major and sometimes you haven't. Which do you feel is the best for you?

DARREN CLARKE: If you take a look at my majors, that's up for debate, isn't it? I haven't managed to do that well in any one yet really, so I don't really know which is the right way to do it.

I needed to have a break, I needed to have a couple of weeks off, and I've enjoyed having a rest. I feel very refreshed and looking very forward to coming back this week.

Getting here early was partly because I heard how difficult the golf course was and how you didn't need to play it a few times, so that was the whole reason why I decided to come here Saturday.

Q. Getting back to the weather and how it might change throughout the week, do you practice with that in mind? How does that affect the way you practice? Obviously you're trying to learn the golf course, but do you have to learn the weather conditions, as well?

DARREN CLARKE: You take what comes and hope for the best.

Q. Paul McGinley made a very significant step, one would hope, towards making the Ryder Cup Team there on Sunday. Were you pleased for him personally to see that, to see him achieve that, and could you talk about that putt he made at The Belfry and what a huge achievement that was, what you were thinking when he was standing over that putt?

DARREN CLARKE: Yes, it was great to see him have a good week again last week. He's been playing well for some time now, and similar to myself, not producing the results that he could or should have been.

In terms of the putt at The Belfry the last time, it was -- we were almost there, but not quite. As it turned out it was a very, very big putt for him to make. You know, he many missed the green where he didn't really want to miss it and then played a really good pitch from where he was. But when he hit the putt, it was one of those that he hit perfect.

Q. Is that the sort of putt you as a pro would relish him to take, or is it a putt that makes you churn up inside?

DARREN CLARKE: I think every putt on the 18th green in the Ryder Cup, everybody is churning up, doesn't matter what stage it was. I think Paul did very well to block out everything that was going on and managed to hit a very solid putt and hole it.

Q. You might noticed I've stopped just short of asking the question, do you think that sort of experience would be valuable to the European team this time?

DARREN CLARKE: I think any experience, any Europeans who have played in the Ryder Cup before, especially in America before, would be a benefit on the team, to play and perform under pressure in the Ryder Cup, not only the putt on Sunday, but he played fantastic with me on the back nine on Saturday afternoon. We got a halve-match with Scott Hoch -- and who is the other one? Jim Furyk I think it could have been. He played great there, as well.

I think experience really is invaluable when it comes to the Ryder Cup.

Q. Is it more important than form?

DARREN CLARKE: Both go hand in hand. But we are at Whistling Straits playing in the PGA.

Q. Could you speak to the finishing holes, maybe 15 through 18? Do you see the tournament riding on that group of holes collectively?

DARREN CLARKE: I think there's 14 coming before it, which is going to have a huge bearing on it, as well, I have to say.

But 15, as I mentioned earlier, a 518-yard par 4 into the wind.

16 is not really reachable, but if you don't -- if you had to pick one hole over the last that's very difficult, you'd have to say 16.

17, if anybody hits in the left half of the green, you've duck-hooked it, because there's no chance you would aim to the left half of that green. It's just the right side and try to get it on the right-hand corner over the bunker if you don't try and up-and-down it.

18, there could be more chips off that green than any other green in major history, with the shape of it.

Q. How often in American major championships do you feel that you're at home in terms of the course?

DARREN CLARKE: I felt a little bit that way at Shinnecock, but I was only there for two days, Thursday and Friday, so I'm better off keeping that to myself.

Q. Could you elaborate on what you mean by the chip on the 18th green?

DARREN CLARKE: Go take a look at it. You'll see the shape of it; there's so many different parts of it that if you miss it -- if you hit a good shot it can catch the slope and trickle down. So you may be 30 feet away from the hole but you've got a bunker or a hill, otherwise you have to pitch over the hill or over the hazard or whatever. Go and take a look at it and you'll see what I mean.

Q. Have you ever chipped on a green before?

DARREN CLARKE: We all have.

Q. And do you believe you might be doing it this week?

DARREN CLARKE: It will definitely be on this week. Take a look at the green and you'll see what I mean.

Q. They are going to play the bunkers all as bunkers; there was some thought they might play some of them as ability to ground your club. Do you think it was the right decision to play everything as a bunker hazard and how do you think that will affect the play this week?

DARREN CLARKE: It will be difficult to differentiate between the ones that you would call bunkers and the ones that you call waste areas, there's so many out there, I don't know how many, they are everywhere. They are all bunkers or none of them are bunkers, and if you are going to take it into play, none of them are bunkers, it's going to make it a little bit silly, especially on a course as tough as this. You want to try and stay out as many of them as you possibly can.

Q. This is definitely the last one, Darren.

DARREN CLARKE: Thank you.

Q. Are you suggesting the course might be too tough, too unfair? Do you think it's like that?

DARREN CLARKE: I don't think it's too tough. I just think it's brutally difficult. I think it's fair, but it's just really, really difficult.

Q. Most difficult you've ever played?

DARREN CLARKE: I would say so, yeah. Augusta and stuff with the way it's set up for The Masters is a completely different test, but this is very, very demanding.

Q. Is this the toughest course that you've played in a major championship? That includes Carnoustie in '99, doesn't it?

DARREN CLARKE: This is the toughest and fairest I've played.

JULIUS MASON: Darren Clarke, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much.

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