The most memorable season of Darren Clarke’s 21 year professional career ended in further celebration with the news he has been awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List.
The Northern Irishman produced one of the most memorable performances of 2011 when, at his 20th attempt and in his 54th Major in total, he captured The Open Championship at Royal St George’s in Kent in July.
It was Clarke’s 14th European Tour International Schedule success – and his second of 2011 having won the Iberdrola Open in Mallorca in May – and one which captured the attention of the wider sporting public, leading to him finishing second behind cyclist Mark Cavendish in the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year contest.
“I have had a fantastic year and this just caps it off,” said Clarke. “It is a privilege to be recognised with an OBE – it’s a lot to take in.
“I could not have envisaged the year I have had. Winning The Open was obviously a dream come true; I had had chances before and at 42, I thought that maybe it was just not to be.
“But it was a life changing moment really and in many ways my feet have not touched the floor since. And now this. It reflects everything I have achieved in the game which makes me feel very proud.”
Clarke’s victory in Kent saw him become the oldest Open Champion since Roberto de Vicenzo triumphed at Royal Liverpool in 1967 and sparked yet another celebratory party across Northern Ireland.
Just a month after Rory McIlroy became the youngest US Open winner since 1933 and a year after Graeme McDowell's triumph in the same event, Clarke joined them in the Major club with an astonishing performance, winning by three shots from Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
The win also extended The European Tour’s winning streak in the Major Championships to an unprecedented six in a row following McDowell (2010 US Open), Louis Oosthuizen (2010 Open), Martin Kaymer (2010 US PGA), Charl Schwartzel (2011 Masters) and McIlroy (2011 US Open).
Not that Clarke has been a stranger to setting records in a stellar career. In the 1999 European Open he became the first player on The European Tour to shoot 60 for a second time, having achieved it first in the 1992 European Monte Carlo Open, and in 2001 he became the first Irishman to win on home soil since John O’Leary in 1982, when he captured The European Open at The K Club.
In 2002 he became the first player to win the English Open three times and in 2003 became the first player, apart from Tiger Woods, to capture more than one World Golf Championship title when he won the WGC-NEC Invitational to add to his triumph in the 2000 WGC- Accenture Match Play.
In 2006 his wife Heather sadly lost her battle with cancer, but three weeks later he was picked by Ian Woosnam as one of the wild cards for The Ryder Cup at The K Club and in an emotionally-charged week produced a superb performance, winning all three of his matches to help Europe retain the trophy.
A dedicated worker for charity, he organised a special Pro-Am at Portmarnock in September 1998 in aid of the victims of the Omagh bombing tragedy and set up his own Darren Clarke Foundation, which not only helps further the development of junior golf in Ireland, but now also raises money for Breast Cancer Awareness.