The Open Champion
Well if like me you watched the Open Championship unfold at Royal St. Georges I’m sure you were wearing a smile as wide as your face and a warm feeling of joy inside as Darren Clarke cruised to victory.
It was like a fairy tail ending for the Northern Irishman claiming his maiden Major Championship after turning Professional 20 years ago.
I’m not for one minute saying that this is the end for Darren but for sure this is what he’s dreamt about ever since he was a boy. So many false dawns, so many times he’s had to pick himself up off the floor after failing, not to mention having to cope with the cruel illness that claimed the life of his wife Heather. Yet still he kept going and with the aid of strong friends and management team around him he won the coveted claret jug.
So what happened to Darren that week at Royal St Georges? We know that what has always been a constant with him is his skill and ability to hit the golf ball better than the majority. This level of expertise has maybe been an issue for him. Why? Well when you don’t get the results you crave with the talent you have then frustration sets in and the patience you require to succeed slowly disappears.
Working with Darren at the Open were Michael Finnigan and Dr Bob Rotella, two experts in the field of psychology and performance. Between them they managed to create in Darren an acceptance that undesired outcomes, bad shots, were part of the game and that if he controlled his responses to them then his skills and ability would come to the fore. His reactions throughout the four rounds were those of someone who was in complete control of his emotions. I’m sure Darren has had weeks where he has hit the ball better, holed more putts, chipped in, had more fun and yet not won. What happened at Sandwich was that he combined his physical skills and experiences to produce a mindset that did not sabotage his chance of winning.
It all sounds so simple and easy so why has he not managed it before? I’m not sure. The pathway to winning and mastery has many different twist and turns. We do know that hitting great golf shots is not all we need to be a winner nor is working harder than the others. Discipline to control our state and emotions is a massive factor in our quest for mastery. Learning that failure is a process and a chance to learn and not a door closing. A better attitude and a creative imagination will work wonders for us on our journey towards being better golfers. Dr Bob Rotella told me he’d challenged Darren to “stop trying to be a rocket scientist. Instead putt like you did when you were 13 years of age. Putt from the subconscious.“
Darren Clarke is one of life’s givers, generous to a fault, which is one of the reasons why his Open win was universally acclaimed. On this occasion he gave himself a chance to win by controlling his own thoughts and emotions.
Five times Open Champion Peter Thomson once said, “The difference between winning and losing is always a mental one”