Golfing hero Darren Clarke has returned home to deliver the game’s biggest prize to his two sons — the Open Championship trophy.
Weary and hungover after a night of partying, he produced the famous claret jug to his wide-eyed boys Tyrone, 12, and Conor, 10, and then declared: “There, that is for you.”
Clarke, 42, whose wife Heather died of cancer in 2006, then sat back and relaxed at his home overlooking the links of Royal Portrush golf course on the north coast, where a new round of celebrations are planned to mark his sensational victory at Royal St Georges, in Sandwich, Kent.
He is the third player from Northern Ireland to win a major title in just over a year — heightening pressure on golf’s ruling body to bring the Open Championship back to Portrush, where it was played the one and only time in 1951.
R&A officials based at St Andrews, Scotland, are due to review the course, one of the world’s finest, as well as the local infrastructure later this year. Although it is unlikely there will be any commitment, it emerged today that Portrush is in the running to stage the Irish Open.
Clarke’s victory came just weeks after his friend Rory McIlroy triumphed at the US Open, a title which Graeme McDowell, also from Portrush, won last year at Pebble Beach.
Suddenly Northern Ireland has become a golfing capital with tourism chiefs planning to launch a new advertising offensive, especially in the United States, in a bid to cash in on an extraordinary run of success.
Clarke’s two boys watched his win on television at home with his sister, mother-of-two Andrea Jennings, and rushed to embrace him when he returned home after flying into George Best Belfast City Airport on a private jet with his fiancee Alison Campbell, his father Godfrey and mother Hettie.
Before getting the flight back to Northern Ireland, he revealed he did not go to bed after his win.
Bleary-eyed and slurring his words, he said: “I had quite a few pints and quite a few glasses of red wine and it all continued until about 30 minutes ago. It has been a very good night.”
Nothing, though, had been poured into the trophy.
“I’m a little bit of a traditionalist. I feel a bit funny about putting stuff in the claret jug that should not be in there,” he said.
“There’s nothing in it as yet. That may not be the case as the week goes by.
“I have 294 (text) messages and the writing is far too small for me to look at them in this state, so I may look at them tomorrow at some stage and figure them out.”
He said he appreciated the victory a lot more now.
“Ten years ago I did take an awful lot of things for granted.”
He added: “It is much easier to perform well with a smile on your face than a scowl on your face.”
Mrs Jennings looked after the children while their father was away and said they were glued to the television all weekend.
“The way he seemed to stay calm, he was very much in control, not like the rest of us,” she said.
The oldest Open champion for more than 40 years called his children at their aunt`s home each night. After his win, the family descended upon the Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae, where Clarke enjoys a drink when he is at his north Antrim home.
Clarke called through last night to buy a round of drinks for fans who had packed the bar to watch and celebrate his victory.
Hotel owner Trevor Kane said: “Darren put a call through to Andrea to set up a round of drinks for everyone at the bar, it was quite a celebration.
“Some people got squirted with champagne.”
Clarke`s father Godfrey was at the course at Royal St Georges.
“I was delighted for him and the work he has put into it,” he said.
“I think it is something to do with him moving back to Portrush. The kids are back home, they are all in the same school. Darren is a lot happier.”
Pressure is growing for Clarke`s club at Royal Portrush to be among the hosts of the Open tournament.
:: Tourism boost
Northern Ireland Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster confirmed that her Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment was involved in negotiations with Royal Portrush to bring the Irish Open to the north coast.
“That is a probability in the near or immediate future so that will help in our bid to get the Open,” she said.
The last time the Open was held at Royal Portrush was 1951. The last Northern Ireland Open champion, Fred Daly, also played there.
Peter Dawson, chief executive of Open organisers the Royal and Ancient (R&A), said they would be carrying out a review of the course and infrastructure, like the number of hotel beds available and the capabilities of the road system later this year. The links course has been extended and major improvements carried out to improve its bid.
Tourism chiefs will be hoping for a major financial return from the recent golfing success, with Clarke now 30th in the world rankings. Tourism Ireland is launching a campaign called “The Home of Champions” to capitalise on their success and draw golf tourists to Northern Ireland.
Clarke, originally from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, McDowell and McIlroy will be in action again in Killarney, Co Kerry, at the Irish Open next week.
The bar of Dungannon Golf Club, 40 miles west of Belfast, ran out of pint glasses within half an hour of Clarke’s stunning win, while sprayed champagne drenched all those who had jammed in to watch the climax of his historic achievement on the TV.
John Meenagh, former competitions secretary at the Co Tyrone club, said his talent was evident from a young age.
Mr Meenagh recalled playing with Clarke when the Open champion broke the Dungannon course record in 1989.
“He was a brilliant player from when he was a child. It was just the way he hit the ball, the length he hit it compared to other children and at putting he was ahead of everybody,” he said.