20 Jul 2011

British Open victory slowly sinking in for champion

1:20 pm on 20 July 2011

Still wearing a grin almost the width of Royal St George's 18th fairway despite no sleep, golfer Darren Clarke was slowly getting his muzzy head around becoming the oldest British Open champion for over 40 years.

The 42-year-old's three-stroke victory earned him 900,000 pounds ($NZ1.7 million) prize money plus two million pounds from his kit sponsor, who offered him a bonus for winning a major at a time most thought his best days were behind him.

Yet it was the realisation his name was now etched on the old Claret Jug perched beside him that provided the most joy after drinking the night away with his manager of 20 years "Chubby" Chandler, a session that lasted until 30 minutes before meeting the media.

The Northern Irishman who has emerged from the darkest days of 2006 when his wife Heather died from breast cancer, says getting his name on the famous trophy was more satisfying than any financial spinoff.

Clarke, who will now qualify automatically for all the majors until the twilight of his career, says he had been celebrating so hard he had not even managed to read all the messages of congratulations that have been pouring in via text and email, although he recalled ones from fellow major champions went along the lines of "welcome to the club".

Clarke is the third Northern Irishman to win a major in the last six, which has given momentum to suggestions that future Open championships could be staged at Portrush in County Antrim.