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Akron Beacon Journal - Interview Darren Clarke


Darren Clarke has a passion for the good things in life. And not in moderation. He's constantly upgrading his cell phone, computer and iPod. He loves Ferraris but also owns two Jaguars, mainly driving the XJR because it has all the extras.

His three-story home outside London includes an extensive wine cellar, stocked primarily with reds from around the world. His cigars have to be Dominican or better. His golf clothes are custom-made by a London man he calls ""Tony the Tailor.'' He's a member of Queenwood, an exclusive club known as the Augusta of England.

As one who knows him well observed Tuesday, ""He's a scratch spender, nothing sits for too long. He always wants the quickest, the biggest and the best and he always wants it yesterday.''
So imagine Clarke's consternation when he wrecked his Boom, a high-powered tricycle with a two-liter German engine, Formula I tires and state of the art sound system, before the truck driver who delivered it had gotten around the corner. It was supposed to be Clarke's Christmas present to himself to ride around his property. Clarke had barely gotten comfortable when his foot slipped and he hit the accelerator instead of the brake. He faced a split-second decision whether to crash into the side of his car or the house. He chose the house, thinking it was sturdier. Then he hailed the deliveryman and had him reload the vehicle and ship it back to the manufacturer.

A year ago at the NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club, Clarke beat Jonathan Kaye by 2 strokes and earned $1.05 million, assuring himself of something special for Christmas. When he learned that the first-place prize had been increased $50,000 from the previous year, he quipped that he might be "running through most of that tonight. At least I'll make a good effort at it.'' With a tournament the following week in Boston, Clarke took a private
plane from Akron to Providence, R.I. Asked where he ended up, Clarke said, "You want me to reveal all my secrets so I can't go back there. I found a very, very accommodating Irish bar and it didn't close for many hours afterwards.''
Clarke, 36 and a native of Northern Ireland, may be Firestone's most flamboyant and fun-loving champion since Roger Maltbie won the NEC World Series of Golf in 1985. He's back to defend his title as the $7 million tournament opens Thursday. "He's losing weight, but he's larger than life,'' Ireland's Padraig Harrington said of Clarke. "He's always had a sense of style, buying expensive clothes, dressing properly,'' said his agent, Andrew ""Chubby'' Chandler, who has known Clarke for 14 years. ""Even in the old days he liked cars, now he can afford to like cars more than he used to. It didn't take him long to get into private air travel and some of the good things in life.''
But physically Clarke is a different man than the one who mastered the7,230-yard South Course in 2003. The world's 13th-ranked golfer has frosted his hair, lost about 45 pounds and revamped his wardrobe, donating 200 shirts and 100 pairs of slacks to charity. Chandler said Clarke knew something needed to be done when he missed the cut last year at the PGA at Oak Hill. So during the German Masters last September, Clarke hired former Great Britain rugby player Steve Hampson to travel around the world as his personal trainer. Hampson urged Clarke to work out six days a week, change his diet and give up his beloved Guinness. He was in the gym for an hour on Christmas morning. The result was a loss of six inches around his waist. "There's a lot to be said for Tanqueray and tonic,'' Clarke said. "But the beers have all gone. That's something my trainer wanted me to do, too many carbs in them. I'm sticking to lighter refreshments, should we say.''

Asked about his motivation, Clarke said, ""I basically started because I was too fat. It wasn't doing my golf game any good and some of the Sunday nights afterward didn't do it any good, either.
"It was an area of my game I took a look at last year and what I wanted to work on was my physical fitness. I looked at the rest of the guys in the top 10 in the world rankings, I wasn't as fit as all those guys. I felt strong when I was playing, but coming down the stretch sometimes I could tell I wasn't fit enough. That would lend to making mental mistakes.''
Davis Love III, one of his best friends on tour, likes Clarke's new
look. "We can't call him all the mean nicknames we used to call him,'' Love said. ""He's fit and he's excited about his golf. He's certainly going to be a top player for a long time if he keeps his work ethic.''  Tiger Woods said Clarke's weight has been an issue since Clarke beat Woods at the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play four years ago at La Costa Resort and Spa. At dinner the night before, Clarke asked what time he teed off and was shocked when told it was 8 a.m. He didn't know it was a 36-hole final, which he won 4 and 3. "I remember how tired he was,'' Woods said in January. ""You shouldn't get that tired after a 36-hole final. And I told him so. I told him he couldn't sustain this, especially playing in Europe and the States, that he'd run out of energy.'' Woods now works out with Clarke on occasion. "It took him a little while to get around to it, but the good thing is that he's doing it the proper way,'' Woods said. ""It's one thing to go on a
diet and lose weight. A lot of people do that, but they don't actually gain strength. Darren's doing it through nutrition as well as exercise and he's working pretty hard.'' The weight loss has contributed to what Clarke calls an "average'' season as he struggled to regain his timing. Without a victory on the PGA or European tours, his best finishes in the United States were thirds at the season-opening Mercedes Championship and the Accenture Match Play and a tie for sixth at Bay Hill. Last week at the PGA he led after the first round and tied for 13th.

With his body remade, Clarke now seeks to temper his trademark
intensity. "He's very serious on the golf course,'' Harrington said. "Like we all are, it's our work out there. He certainly gets down on himself. He probably could lighten up more on the golf course and could take more of himself outside the course onto the course. You never know, it might improve some performances.''

Love calls Clarke ""really one of the good guys in golf. He doesn't have an enemy. He's certainly one of guys who comes over here and immediately we're excited to have him in a field.'' But Love also thinks his buddy needs to chill. "If I had to give Darren one piece of advice when he plays golf, it's 'Slow down,''' Love said. "He's like in a hurry to do something and I don't know what it is. He's a great guy, a fun guy. I think he wants it so bad he can't slow down and relax.''

Chandler thought it was a good sign that might be happening last week when Clarke did pre-round television interviews with CBS and Sky Sports, Great Britain's cable sports station. "He never used to do that,'' Chandler said. "That's a sign of him feeling more comfortable. He chats to his playing partners far more than he used to. He interacts more with the galleries.'' Clarke said he's been trying to stop flogging himself after a bad shot for a long time. "Whenever I'm off the golf course I'm very laid back,'' he said. "I have a lot of fun with nearly everybody. I'd love to be able to do the same on the golf course. Sometimes my determination and my frustration gets  the better of me.''
The best indication that the transformation of Clarke may be nearly complete came Saturday when he shanked his 4-iron off the 17th tee at Whistling Straits. He didn't blow up. He joked afterward that "it was one to be proud of. I thought I took it quite well,'' he said Tuesday. "My chin wasn't too bruised.'' Asked if he's better equipped to handle such mishaps now, he said, ""I was better equipped to go find it, that's for sure.''



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