Under The Microscope: Darren Clarke

Birthday: 14/08/1968
Height: 6ft 2 1/2in
Weight: 14st
Birthplace: Dungannon, Northern Ireland
Turned Pro: 1990

Darren co-owns a private jet with best friend Lee Westwood, but they only use it when both are playing in the same event. A long haul round trip would set the pair back £60,000 so they mainly use it for European Tour events. The pilot has arguably the best job in the world on a six figure retainer, even though the downturn in the economy means he has to now do charters a couple of times a month!

In The Bag

Driver: Taylormade R9 with Aldila Voodoo XPP8. New in the bag but already a trusted weapon. The adjustable R9 head is not so much designed for distance as for accuracy.


Fairway wood: R9 fairway 13º with Aldila Voodoo DCC shafts. Clarke sometimes interchanges this with a 15º version


Irons: 2-PW Taylormade Burner Tour Preferred, x flex shafts and Lamkin grips. Brand new in Darren’s bag, he is still working on setting the lofts and lies to suit his game. The 2 iron gets switched for a 5-wood when the course dictates.

Wedges: Bob Vokey customized 54º (14º bounce) and 58º (14º bounce) wedges.


Putter:
Scotty Cameron customized Studio Select Newport 2. Fitted with dark anti-glare shaft and embossed with the green shamrock and initials “DC”.
Misc:
Utility Bag: Darren’s ball bag used be a crocodile’s ball bag!

Ball: Taylormade Tour Black with shamrock logo.






4 Lads In A Car: Seapoint
This weeks four lads offering was a celebrity version, hosted by Seapoint Links in Termonfeckin near Drogheda, Co. Louth. The event organized by my favourite golf channel, Setanta Golf, involved a fourball with their touring pro and living legend Darren Clarke.

Of course my presence there was purely fortuitous. Regular Examiner front-man Charlie Mulqueen had a bit of a bad back and I got promoted from lowly boot scrubber just for the day. The fact that I normally keep my third, fourth and fifth vertebrae in a jar of oil by my bed between Sundays was never going to stop me missing this opportunity. No sooner had I parked the car in front of the impressive clubhouse but I spotted the Clarke-mobile; a tiny black Porsche with the number plate “DC60”, in reverence to his stunning 60 at the K Club a few years back. It reminded me of the advertising slogan they never used- “Porsche. Too small to get laid in, but you’ll get laid the minute you jump out”!

After some getting to know you banter with DC and the other guys we boarded Seapoint’s first tee. We were joined by Liam Kelly of the Indo, who is that good, he’s the only writer in Ireland to be sponsored by Cleveland, and Shay Keenan of the Irish Times who fine tunes his links touch at The Island with the pilots. Faced with a par four slight dog leg first hole, I gave the drive my Mayo Minor Sunday best and nailed it (albeit slightly right). Darren took out his new R9 and lashed at it like a Taliban teacher; sending it easily over 300 yards. To give you an idea of how far pro’s hit the ball, compare our second shots; I had a full blooded wedge to ten feet while Darren had a little drop and stop lob wedge from some 50 yards closer which finished a foot from the hole!

That’s not to say that Clarke had it all his own way at Seapoint. At just over 7,100 yards it may not be in the monster category on paper, but when wind is added into the mix, it certainly makes some holes play longer than their billing. The 18 holes play out like a crossword. Though there are a number of generous par fours and fives that can be relatively simply solved, but there are also a couple of cryptic par threes that have the potential to leave you stumped. The first is the ninth, a 200 plus yarder with silage flanking both sides of the green. A five iron for DC, hybrids and woods for the rest of us, but no-one made par despite our best efforts at Mickelson flop shots. I imagine not many do. Next is the 17th, a real examination set for the members by course designers Des Smyth and Declan Brannigan. It’s as if they are testing you to see if you are actually fit to win the competition. If you do happen to make par or better on 17, the par five 18th provides a fun finish where a good drive and second shot wont be far from the green and a birdie opportunity.

As he tapped in for yet another birdie, Clarke told me he has spent a fair share of his time off tour in the home-gym getting ready for the next tour assault. A niggling shoulder muscle tear, the kind scrumhalves get, did curtail the exercise but is now all but healed. Home of course also meant quality time with sons Tyrone and Conor which mean everything to Darren. Even though he’s only 10, Tyrone starts boarding school in the next few weeks and Darren is already plotting to get on the right side of the Principal for visiting privileges!

As we completed the round, Darren spoke of his plans for next couple of weeks. Next week he returns to the Tour in Asia where he has won in the past. He spent a few days last week in Portrush getting some links practise in before his upcoming appearance at the Irish Open and the round at Seapoint provided the ideal sparring round needed in the build up.

Seapoint sits back to back with Baltray and while the latter may have more fame, both are excellent in a Bobby and Jack Charlton way. If you’re heading to the Irish Open in a couple of weeks and fancy getting in a round in the vicinity, €60 will get you out in Seapoint on a weekday. Check out the website www.seapointgolfclub.com for booking info. How did we all do? To keep the crossword analogy going Darren completed it with relative ease while the rest of us made a creditable attempts but had the inevitable few blanks!

Bloggy Underfoot- The Major Post Mortem

What a week Augusta was! Now that pockets of all the green jackets have been stuffed with moth-balls and stuck in the closet for another year, it’s time for the post-mortem. I’ve laid the Masters on the gurney, taken out its brain and dissected its vital organs to learn the lessons for the next three majors.

1. No Substitute for Experience

Though it may not be as evident in the next three majors, the Masters proved yet again, that no matter how skilled a player is, there is simply no substitute for experience. Those of us watching the 18th on TV on Friday night first watched Tiger and then Stewart Cink play away from the flag (up the hill) from the bunker on the right. There was a collective tightening of grips on pints when Rory McIlroy then aimed straight for the pin from the same bunker just a couple of minutes later. And we all know what happened next. All told, though Rory learned Augusta’s tricks the hard way, he proved he has the game to give this Major a right rattle next time.

2. Age Means Less…..Shots
Okay, most of us thought that Greg Norman’s second place finish at The Open last year could be explained away by the fact that the Aussie, though over 50, is a super-fit, superhuman, super golfer. The fact is that The Shark’s success was not just a flash in the pan. Advances in club and ball technology have become the Viagra that can keep older players up for longer, the leaderboard that is. Take the success of past winners Larry Mize and Sandy Lyle as proof of that. Throw in Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera with a combined age of 87 and there can be no doubt that old is the new young. What next? A Perry at Turnberry or a Haas at Sawgrass!

3. The Tiger and Phil Show
The big two sure did put on a Sunday show. A new knee for Tiger and a new driver for Phil meant that both were within spitting distance of the leaders albeit briefly. Then something strange happened. Phil mis-clubs on the 12th and finds the water, then Tiger does his Woody Woodpecker impression on a tree on the last. When was the last time you saw either of these guys do something like that? Phil discusses every iron shot for seemingly ages with caddy Bones, and Tiger is the best 18th hole player that ever lived. Could it be that both took their eyes off the real prize and got embroiled in a bit of Sunday matchplay for the “World’s Best Player” title? Or was it something more serious, you know the thing that sounds like “critters” but starts with “j”. Anyway, irrespective of sparkly new drivers or brand new knees, both limped home.

4. No More Stuck in the Muds at Augusta
The days of Hootie and his blowfish are now long gone. New boss Billy Payne has dragged the Masters kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The course is more accessible to all with “birdie chances aplenty on the back nine” making a welcome return. Add to that a brilliant new tournament website and excellent TV coverage and the jackets are greener than ever in HD. And okay its sad to see the end of greats like Gary Player and bellies like Fuzzy Zoeller, but good for them to realise the public would rather remember them in their prime than watch them struggle to perform in a the era after their own.

With the Masters autopsy complete and the event neatly sutured back together, the theatre is being readied for the US Open at Bethpage on June 15th. There, no doubt even further drama will unfold as the old guard go “back to black”.

Dr. and The Medic: Low Running Chips

Problem
While hitting a chip and run you cant control the height of your chip.

Cure
The key to this swing is to hit it more like a putting stroke or almost sweeping motion to help keep it low.

Therapy
You need to avoid hitting down on the ball with too steep of a swing. Set up with your trailing shoulder just a little lower than normal. Swing with just your trailing arm as you practice the shot to get the correct feel. Let your forward hand to hold the upper portion of your trailing arm as a practise drill. This will also help you keep the ball rolling low.


I Want One Of Those- V-Towel


Are you one of those golfers will spend a grand on irons and never bothers to clean them preferring instead to leave them sitting in your bag caked in mud? You then blame everything from your balls to your bad back whilst all the while remaining oblivious to the fact your irons have the equivalent of a mud-pack on their faces.
Forget searching deep in your bag for one of those tiny groove scrubbers, what you need is a V-Towel. Voted best new product at the 2008 PGA show in Orlando, the V-Towel is the all in one answer to on-course club cleaning. And best of all, it’s Irish!
The V-Towel has a looped, full detachable, mircofiber towel coupled with a nifty 270 degree cleaning bristle arc to keep golf clubs in optimum condition. You can attach and remove the V-towel in nanoseconds with their unique drop-and-lock system.
Brought to you by Vicarious Golf you can find the V-Towel in all good golf shops or online from
http://www.vvvisions.com/.


Tailored Shorts
Olazabal To Be Inducted
Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal is to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame for 2009. The news seems to have spurred Olazabal onto good things on the course with a good showing at Augusta then an excellent top ten finish at the Verizon Heritage. Olazabal, now 43, comes into The Hall Of Fame with 23 international wins and six PGA Tour victories including two Masters wins in ’94 and’99. He is also one of the most successful Ryder Cup players ever with an 18-8-5 record. The Spaniards career of late has been blighted by rheumatism so it’s fantastic to see him back playing at his best.


Murray Mint
Veteran comedy actor and golf fan Bill Murray was up usual crazy antics while competing at the Pro-Am before the Champions Tour event at TPC Southwind. The star of Ghostbusters and Caddyshack pulled his tee shot on the ninth and hit a woman sitting in her garden. She was subsequently taken to hospital but later released. The PGA tour officials gave Murray some of his own comedy medicine by wearing hard hats on the first tee the following day. Before Murray teed off they made the following statement, “The PGA tour has issued a special gallery advisory today! At approximately 285 yards and further ‘Duck’!”

Monty Snaps
Poor old Colin Montgomerie got a taste of what it feels like to be Britney Spears in the first of the Volvo China Open in Beijing. First an over eager fan made the fatal error of snapping his camera as Monty was mid swing and received the dreaded scowl followed by ejection from the premises for his troubles. Later after Monty drove into a hazard, he let loose on a camerman repeating again and again, “Don’t film me”. The European Tour are said to be considering covering all Monty’s shots in future on radio only!




Sergio’s Masters Misery
It cant be easy to keep to keep your cool after walking off the 18th green in Augusta only to be confronted by TV reporters seeking to chat about your misery. And so it turned out for Sergio Garcia, who came into the tournament with his head not “in a beautiful place”. After a 74 on Sunday, Garcia told a Golf Channel reporter “I don’t like it, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair, and it’s just too tricky. Even when it’s dry, you still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway. It’s just too much of a guessing game.” And yes, the US media jumped onto it immediately. Garcia and his management company IMG had to move quickly to douse the flames with the following apology, “Following my final round at the Masters, I made comments in an interview that I regret and want to apologize for. Out of frustration, I blamed the golf course instead of putting the blame where it belongs, on myself. I didn’t get it done this week. Augusta National is one of the most iconic golf courses in the game and playing in the Masters each year is an honour. I apologize to the members of Augusta National and the fans who rightfully treasure this golf course.” Let’s hope Sergio can get back to his “iconic” best for the upcoming Players Championship.


Bet Your Balls-

Ballantine's Championship
Pinx GC
Jeju Island, South Korea



23 Apr 2009 - 26 Apr 2009

Graeme McDowell 16/1
Produced one of the shots of his career to win the inaugural Ballantine’s Champions in a thrilling sudden-death play-off in March 2008. Having seen Jeev Milkha Singh hit in to four feet on the third playoff hole, McDowell produced a stunning seven iron from 179 yards which finished within a foot of the hole. Finished a creditable tied 17th at the Masters on four under and will be keen to climb from 35th in the race to Dubai.


Paul McGinley 40/1
Nice to see Paul back on form last week in China. A poor third round saw him fall back the leaderboard but he finished with a superb 68 and tie for eighth. Though McDowell and Singh stole the show at last years Ballintines, McGinley actually finished third. He said afterwards “My memory of last year is that Graeme and Jeev ran away with the tournament. They turned it into a two-man shootout and everyone else was playing a different tournament, which I managed to win”! Another good week should be in store for the amicable Dub.

Mark Brown 66/1
Even though the field this week includes the likes of Els, Westwood, Stenson, Monty and Clarke, I’m pitching for the relatively unknown Kiwi Mark Brown to feature again this week. Finished two shots off the pace in China last week; very creditable given a second round 77. In March 2008 Brown captured the Johnnie Walker Classic in New Delhi one week after winning his maiden Asian Tour title when he claimed the SAIL Open. Lets hope his 2009 streak continues in Korea.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Monday Apr 20 – Sunday Apr 26, 2009
TPC Louisiana · Avondale, La.

Nick Watney 16/1
Nick Watney is having a super season. Now up to 35th in the official world rankings and fourth in the Fed-Ex points race. Watney has finished in the top-25 in eight of the nine events he has played this year, which includes a win at the Buick and a second to Phil Mickelson at the WGC CA Championship. Watney edged out Ken Duke here in 2007 to claim his first tour victory and should be fresh after a weeks rest.


Todd Hamilton 66/1
He may have only made four cuts in the 11 events he has played this season, but 2005 Claret Jug winner Todd Hamilton is a man in form this weather. He attributes his recent good showing which includes a top-20 at the Masters and a tied fourth last week, to a “five year cycle” in which he claims to have a run of form.


Tim Wilkinson 40/1
Another Kiwi Tim Wilkinson should be a decent each way look in New Orleans. The 2008 Q-school graduate cemented his card in this event last year with a third place finish behind Andres Romero and Peter Lonard. Wilkinson is also showing a bit of form going into the event with a tied sixth place finish last week at Hilton Head.
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