at last! Clarke joinS exclusive club wITH first major WIN

Sport is a never ending source of epic drama and heroic achievements. But what is it about the Irish these last 13 months? First we saw Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy win successive US Opens. And now it is Darren Clarke’s turn to take centre stage by lifting the famous Claret Jug in the most famous golf tournament of them all, in a story to match any for raw emotion.

The Open is the big one. The greatest prize in golf. And for Clarke to emerge the victor and finally win his first major at the age of 42 is a moving tale of triumph over adversity for one of the sport’s best loved and most naturally gifted players of his generation.

It was a poignant moment that brought a tear to the eye of anyone with a heart, as Clarke dedicated his brilliant win to his wife Heather, who passed away five years ago after being struck down by breast cancer, and their two sons, Conor and Tyrone, watching back home in Northern Ireland.

Clarke, winner of 20 tournaments around the world and a veteran of five Ryder Cups,  finished three strokes clear of a field swept away by the rain and wind in tretcherous conditions at Royal St George’s. As the challengers fell away one by one Clarke stood tall, propelled by the belief that his time had finally arrived on the biggest stage of all.

Not surprisingly, there was a tumultous approval from the fans who packed the 18th green as he sank his final putt.

In his victory speech Clarke revealed what it all meant to him when he shared his inner feelings to the watching world: “In terms of what’s going through my heart, there’s obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she’d be very proud of me. She’d probably be saying, I told you so,” he said of the late Heather Clarke.

“But I think she’d be more proud of my two boys and them at home watching more than anything else. It’s been a long journey to get here. It’s incredible – it really is. It’s for the kids.”

In this era of the golfer athlete, Clarke’s success is even more spectacular because he has done it in his own distinguished manner. The cigar‑smoking, Guinness‑drinking big man from Dungannon is proof there is more than one way to make history and win the hearts and minds of the watching public. Clarke is a man of the people who deserves his triumph and the adulation of his fans.  After winning in Spain earlier this year, he travelled home on a budget airline and bought drinks for the entire flight to celebrate. That is the measure of the man who has never let fame and fortune turn him into a sporting diva.

Clarke’s finest hour also extends a remarkable run of success in major championships for Northern Ireland over the past year and a bit. Last summer McDowell won the US Open at Pebble Beach, 22-year-old McIlroy famously won the same title at Congressional last month in record-breaking style, and now this.

Not bad for a province of a million people.