Bygones: Emotions run deep as Darren Clarke plays through the pain in historic K Club win

Whatever the outcome at Hazeltine this weekend, Darren Clarke's Ryder Cup legacy was sealed 10 years ago on home shores.

Europe's Darren Clarke hugs his caddy after defeating USA's Zach Johnson on the final day of the Ryder Cup, at the K Club in September 2006. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA

Europe’s captain in Minnesota unwittingly produced the most moving of storylines, with a brave performance at an emotionally-charged K Club outside of Dublin.

Six weeks hence, Clarke’s wife Heather had lost her battle with cancer. Clarke had to question whether he had the stromach to first prepare for, and then compete in, an event as mentally demanding as a Ryder Cup.

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The fact it was in Ireland, and he was a proud Ulsterman, perhaps convinced him that showing his face rather than grieving in private was the most therapeutic course of action.

A tearful Darren Clarke hugs the USA's Zach Johnson after defeating him on the 16th hole on the final day of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland. Picture: Rebecca Naden/PA

Clarke certainly had the backing of the Irish public, European golf fans, and perhaps most tellingly, even the American golfers he was competing against.

Davis Love and Tiger Woods were among his closest mates on the US team, and they acted that week more like friends and comrades, rather than opponents.

Clarke’s walk onto the first tee on that first morning showed the true extent of how close his emotions were to his surface.

Bedecked in Europe’s colours of lime green that day, he strode out with good friend Lee Westwood, who put a hand of support on Clarke’s shoulder as he walked to the tee.

A tearful Darren Clarke hugs the USA's Zach Johnson after defeating him on the 16th hole on the final day of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland. Picture: Rebecca Naden/PA

Swept along on a wave of emotion, Clarke and Westwood defeated Phil Mickelson and Chris Di Marco, 1up, in the final fourballs match of the first morning.

Rested in the afternoon, Clarke and Westwood teamed up again on Saturday morning and took an even bigger scalp in the fourballs, that of Woods and Jim Furyk, 3&2.

Europe held a convincing position after two days, leading 10-6 and as Clarke set off for a third and final time in the singles, it was becoming clear that his match with Zach Johnson may well witness the winning putt.

Clarke admits himself that as he built a lead and protected it around the turn, he was having trouble keeping his emotions bottled up. He closed out the match on the 16th green, courtesy of his own play, and a gracious act from Johnson, who conceded the three-footer that he needed to win it.

“I saw an unbelievable act of sportsmanship between Zach and Darren,” said Billy Foster, the Yorkshire caddie who carried Clarke’s bag that week.

“Zach picked up Darren’s ball marker when he had a three-footer to win it. That meant a lot.”

The tears that he had kept to himself all week, erupted. Clarke sobbed uncontrollably; into the arms of Foster, Johnson, Ian Woosnam his captain, Love and opposing leader Tom Lehman.

There were few dry eyes in that small corner of County Kildare.

Moments later, Europe sealed a record-equalling 18.5 – 9.5 victory.

“The K Club was by far the best Ryder Cup,” said Foster, who at Hazeltine, completed his 13th. “Best atmosphere, a fantastic victory and unbelievable emotion because I was with Darren. It was raucous; it was like playing golf in a football stadium.”