Clarke’s next big step was to announce himself on the world stage and what better way to do that than beat the dominant force in golf, Tiger Woods, head-to-head? Clarke did just that in February 2000 when he overcame the world number one in the 36-hole final of the WGC Accenture Matchplay Championship at La Costa Resort. Oh, he rolled over David Duval in the semi-finals as well, completing a rare win-double of beating the two best players on the planet at the time in consecutive matches.
Clarke has since followed up that success by winning the 2003 NEC International by four shots at the Firestone Country Club. But with a bagful of titles, a garage of sports cars (including a Ferrari with the registration plate DC 60 to commemorate one of his two lowest rounds) and a place in the top echelons of golf assured, there was still something missing. Despite being in contention in several Major championships, notably the 1997 Open at Troon when he tied for second behind Justin Leonard, Clarke had still not nailed a ‘big one’.
Hence the radical fitness drive and the consultations with sports psychologist Karl Morris. Clarke says Morris “helped me work on concentration techniques, and I used a lot of those at Firestone. I’ve not introduced anything new to my game, it just all clicked together really well.”
Whilst the mental training may not be obvious to the naked eye, the physical changes certainly are. Gary Player had pointed out a few years ago that Clarke and his great mate Lee Westwood needed to shed a few pounds if they were to fulfil their huge potential and the pair have taken the South African’s advice to heart.
Clarke turned up at this May’s British Masters at the Forest of Arden looking fitter than ever and although he did not go as far as Westwood – who was promoting a meat substitute to aid his weight loss – the pounds had certainly dropped off him.
If you lose the equivalent of spare tyre from your midriff it is bound to have an effect on your swing as he explained. “I’m pretty happy where I am with my weight at the moment as long as I can keep doing what I have been doing for the last seven months. As far as the swing goes I’m starting to feel a lot better, although I said that after the first round of The Masters and then went out and did what I did. I’m persevering and one day it is going to fall into place.
“Two years ago I had a terrible year. I played very poorly, and underperformed. Although last season was a lot better, I’m trying to improve even more. “I don’t want to get to the situation in my career where I’m 42 or 43 and think I could have been a bit fitter and done things a bit better when I was younger. I’ve had a reasonable career to date. The whole thing is to try to improve, give myself a better chance of winning Majors. No beer, no nicotine.”