Darren Clarke touches on all things at Hoag Classic’s Breakfast with a Champion

No stone was left unturned when Darren Clarke regaled a crowd with tales of his life on Tuesday at Newport Beach Country Club.

As the guest of honor for the Hoag Classic’s annual kickoff event, Breakfast with a Champion, Clarke answered questions for more than an hour from Hoag Classic Chairman Emeritus Hank Adler. Clarke, from Northern Ireland, is competing in the three-day PGA TOUR Champions tournament, which starts Friday.

Although he kept the mood light for most of the morning, Clarke entertained some touchier subjects, including the passing of his first wife, Heather.

After beating breast cancer once, it returned in 2004 and took her life in August 2006. Clarke recalled that two days before her passing, Heather had told him that if he was asked to play in the Ryder Cup, she wanted him to do so.

Clarke took his time before making a decision, but he ultimately did decide to play. That year, he went on to win all three of his Ryder Cup matches.

In his career, Clarke, an Irishman, has made six Ryder Cup appearances, which included the honor of being named captain for Team Europe in 2016.

A former major winner at the British Open in 2011 at Royal St. George’s Golf Club, Clarke finds that there is no greater pressure in the game than the Ryder Cup because golf is not traditionally considered a team sport.

“The most nervous any professional gets is on the first day of the Ryder Cup,” Clarke said. “Literally, everybody’s hands are shaking. If your hands aren’t shaking, you’re on some of the drugs, and I would love to know what you’re on.

“It’s just a nerve-wracking experience, but it’s exhilarating at the same time. It’s the ultimate, ultimate pressure.”

Hank Adler, left, interviews Darren Clarke during the Hoag Classic's Breakfast with a Champion at Newport Beach Country Club on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Clarke paid further tribute to Heather in speaking the words that have been engraved on her tombstone, “Don’t be sad for what you have lost. Smile for what you had.”

If anyone can understand that message, it is Clarke, who grew up in conflict in Northern Ireland. He once worked in a bar that was brought to the ground by a bombing. Clarke helped stock the bar, beginning his shift at 5 p.m. that day.

The doors opened at 8:30 p.m. Thirty minutes later, a bomb threat was brought to attention, and at 9:30 p.m., the bomb went off, flattening the place.

“The bomb was positioned from you to me through the back wall from 5 o’clock that afternoon,” Clarke said to Adler, with the two of them sitting in a pair of high-backed chairs at the front of the room. “It could have gone off at any stage, and I wouldn’t be here.”

Since his golf career took off, Clarke has enjoyed himself immensely. He picked up a hobby in dabbling through the luxury car market, though, that does not mean he always took care of them.

On one occasion, he brought a Ferrari to a golf course on what appeared to be a sunny day. He found himself on the hole furthest from the clubhouse when it began to rain, and he remarked finding three inches of water in the car when he left the roof open.

Clarke could have passed for a silver fox with everything gray, from his hair, to his button-down long-sleeved shirt, to his pants. He provided those in attendance with more than a few good laughs.

“I love it,” Clarke said of joining the PGA TOUR Champions. “There aren’t many sports where you turn 50 and you become a rookie again. I’ve got more hair than anyone else on the range.”

Clarke also drew chuckles for his comments on the celebration after realizing his lifelong dream of winning the British Open at age 42.

“I had a few chances to win it before, and I was able to do it when I was 42,” he said. “The only difference was the hangover that lasted a week was a lot worse at 42 than it would have been at 25.”

Twitter: @ProfessorTurner