George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, led the tributes to Darren Clarke the day after the Northern Irishman’s brilliant victory in The 140th Open Championship.
Clarke held off the challenges of Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to triumph by three shots at Royal St George’s in Kent, and on Monday the newspapers were awash with praise for the popular 42 year old.
O’Grady said: “Darren Clarke’s victory was a masterclass of links golf and will be celebrated by all of us at The European Tour. His impressive victory at Royal St George’s continues a marvellous spell for Northern Irish golf and for The European Tour.”
Golf correspondents for newspapers across the UK and Ireland were effusive in their congratulations for Clarke, who claimed his first Major Championship with a supremely consistent display in at times horrendous weather on the south-east coast of England.
Neil Squires, Gold Correspondent for the Daily Express, said: “Over the four days of The Open, a smile was never far from his lips as Clarke showed his mastery of the links golf upon which he was raised. He swept the ball low around Royal St George’s under the worst of the wind, working its contours like a master masseur.”
John Dillon, the Daily Express’ Chief Sports Writer, said: “Big Darren ensured that by playing in such a calm and assured manner nearly all the way around Royal St George’s that there was never really any tremor of doubt about who would be successful in the end. He was magnificently dignified in his triumph and the way he handled it.”
Steven Howard, Chief Sports Writer for The Sun, claimed: “Probably the best-received victory since the late, great Seve Ballesteros, who died earlier this year, won at Lytham in 1988.”
Matt Dickinson, of The Times, commented: “The wait, the 20 years of trying and failing, seemed to make this triumph all the sweeter. Clarke had the experience, the wisdom, the maturity to savour the moment. And what a triumph it was as he beat the best golfers in the world with a nerveless final round.”
According to the Independent’s James Corrigan, “This was a success of the very highest order, compiled with ball-striking of the very highest order. The achievement should not be underestimated. And neither should the determination. The vigour with which he strode up that final fairway reminded one more of an 18 year old starting out than a 42 year old finishing off. That’s what dream-making can do to a man.
“And as Clarke waved to an ovation the rival of any in golfing folklore, back home in Ulster they set off on an all-nighter. Again.”
Philip Reid of the Irish Times said: “In terms of emotion and sentiment, this win was hugely popular: in the grandstand, on every hillock on this corner of England and, most certainly, in the locker-room, where his peers have often wondered how he had gone through an honour-laden career without a Major. That sense of wonderment is now no more.”
Karl MacGinty, the Irish Independent’s Golf Correspondent, said: “Never before has a man waited so long and toiled so hard for victory at The Open. Have any shed as many tears or, let’s be honest, uttered as many oaths in frustration as this 42 year old, hot-blooded broth of a boy from Dungannon.”
“Amidst everything that went on around him, Clarke remained calmness itself,” said Derek Lawrenson, Golf Correspondent for the Daily Mail. “In the process, he wrote one of the most romantic tales even the long history of The Open has ever produced.
“For a small province of 1.5 million people to win one Major seemed wonderful; two was amazing. But a third takes it to another realm. This might be the best story sport has ever told.”