Like every professional, Darren Clarke wants to leave the Ballantine’s Championship with silverware in his hands on Sunday night. But, unlike the rest of the field, the Ulsterman was the only player to arrive in Korea with a very special trophy already in his luggage.
Nine months ago the 43 year old completed the greatest victory of his illustrious professional career when he claimed The 140th Open Championship, holding off Americans Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson to triumph at Royal St George’s.
As well as worldwide acclaim and a place in the annals of golfing history for all time, Clarke also received one very special reward for his victory, the famous Claret Jug, recognised across the globe as perhaps the most famous trophy in golf.
Naturally proud of his achievement, Clarke endeavours to take the trophy with him to as many places in the world as he plays and Korea is no exception, the Claret Jug taking pride of place on the table at the Gala Dinner which heralded the start of the Ballantine’s Championship week.
“I must admit that the Gala Dinner went really well last night,” he said. “I had the Claret Jug there last night and there were a lot of pictures taken with it. It's certainly a privilege for me to bring it with me most places where I go.”
Clarke enjoyed another memorable celebration earlier this month when he married his fiancée Alison Campbell, the former Miss Northern Ireland, at a beach ceremony in the Bahamas, attended by Clarke’s sons Tyrone and Conor, close friends and family and Clarke’s manager Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler.
The couple met in 2009 after having been introduced by fellow European Tour professional Graeme McDowell and Alison was by Clarke’s side in Kent last summer when he triumphed in The Open Championship.
“It has been a special couple of weeks, that’s for certain, and it was good to have the opportunity to have a little break and get married again. I feel very lucky, but it is back to work again now and I’ll be trying to get back into my golf again.”
Clarke has enjoyed 14 victories on The European Tour International Schedule in addition to numerous successes around the globe including winning the Taiheiyo Masters in Japan in successive seasons in 2004-05 and the BMW Asian Open in China in 2008.
But he admitted he is looking forward to trying to add to his title haul with a first success in Korea on his debut over the demanding Blackstone Golf Club layout.
“It is my first time here, I have not played the course before, but obviously heard a lot of good things from the tournament and about the golf course from other players,” he said.
“It's another good field again and because of that there are a lot of World Ranking points on offer. As a result, I'm sure it will be another great week.”