He arrived in front of the Royal Lytham and St Annes clubhouse this morning, and beamed as he climbed out of his car clutching the Claret Jug.

The rain fell as he performed the ceremonial return of the Claret Jug to Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, but the Open’s defending champion, Darren Clarke, could not care less about the weather. He’s the Open champion, and the Ulsterman is never going to forget it.

As the TV crews and photographers jostled for their shots, Clarke remained patient and smiling, before diverting to the media centre for every golfer’s most cherished duty, speaking to journalists.

Let alone the rain showers, even the media inquisition could not dampen Clarke’s spirits, having spent the past 12 months travelling the world in the company of the Claret Jug.

“I didn’t really want to give it back,” started Clarke, who became the Open champion at the age of 42 at Royal St. George’s.

“The year has gone amazingly fast. It’s been an honour for me to represent the R&A and bring the Claret Jug all over the world, and to a few countries where it had never been before. It is one of those iconic trophies that people hardly ever actually, physically get to see, but a lot of people have had pictures with it, and they enjoyed the Claret Jug as much as I did.”

Clarke even admitted to returning the Claret Jug to Dawson in a state that did not quite match the condition in which he received the trophy 12 months ago.

“It’s not quite in as good a condition as when I received it,” admitted Clarke. “It’s been here, there and everywhere, but Mr. Dawson looked at it and said, oh, we can fix that, we can fix this, so it’s not too bad.

Despite being a man known to enjoy a Guinness and a glass of claret, Clarke’s reverence to the Claret Jug meant he did not celebrate as many past Open champions have done, by drinking out of the famous jug. “It is just too special a trophy”, he said.

Story courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, patron of the 2012 Open Championship