In the early hours of Wednesday morning, one professional golfer was working hard on his game at a sun-kissed St Andrews ahead of the start of the 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
It was none of the young tyros of world golf keen to hone their techniques or familiarise themselves with the Home of Golf, but instead 43 year old Darren Clarke, the reigning Open Champion.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which attracts stars from the worlds of entertainment, sport and music as well as the cream of global golfing talent, offers Clarke the chance to prove he is over the mini slump in form which followed his Open Championship triumph.
Clarke has openly spoke of his quest to find “new goals and challenges” after winning The Open Championship.
He added: “It has taken me time to reassess and fix new goals. I’ve done what I’ve always wanted to do, got to the top of the mountain. Major Championships are all very important, but to me The Open is the oldest, the biggest, the best there is.”
The Ulsterman also attributed his dip in form to poor time management and a reluctance to decline the demands made on him by the myriad of media and sponsorship requests which came his way in the wake of his victory at Royal St George’s. But a return to links golf and the type of courses on which he learned to play the game gives him the perfect platform to reverse his recent fortunes.
For Clarke, the end of season tournaments are not the time to reminisce on his Major triumph, but instead to secure vital Ryder Cup and World Ranking points and improve his position in the Race To Dubai.
As well as striving for individual success, the unique nature of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship also affords him the chance to play in partnership with his manager, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler .
Chandler was a professional golfer before reverting to sports management as founder of ISM, and Clarke has desperately been trying to improve his playing partner’s backswing “by bringing his left shoulder closer to the ball”.
Whilst his chances of taking the team event hang in the balance and are at least partially outside his control, Clarke has high hopes of succeeding Martin Kaymer as champion. He boasts an impressive record at St Andrews, having finished seventh in The Open Championship in 2000, and 15th in 2005. The length of Kingbarns and Carnoustie should also theoretically play to the big hitter’s strengths.
While the Claret Jug, his constant travel companion, is the culmination of years of hard work and a determination to reach the top of the game, and will ultimately come define his success as a golfer, his relaxed and assured demeanour after achieving a life time’s ambition could well lead him to further glory.
One thing for certain, as the early morning birds and greenkeeping staff at St Andrews can readily attest, is that there are few more dedicated golfers on The European Tour than Clarke.
Unlike his prized asset, the replica Claret Jug which suffered minor damage during his post-Open celebrations, Clarke’s commitment to the game remains undented.