At about that time, Clarke discovered links golf. He and his father began making weekly trips to seaside courses, including Royal Portrush. Playing there added finesse to his power, making him a player of surprising deftness around the greens. "I love links golf, because you've got to use your imagination. You've got to work the ball, chip it, do everything," Clarke says. He still owns a house in Portrush. And his home outside London is called Dunluce, after the club's championship course.
Clarke is also loyal to his roots in Dungannon. When the club acquired a new parcel of land a few years ago so it could lengthen the course, he obligingly redesigned three holes. The club, in return, named its new ninth hole for him. Clarke traditionally "stands the bar" at Dungannon when he wins a tournament, buying drinks for all on hand. Every year he's played in the Masters, his old four-ball partner, Hunter, has been invited to be his guest in Augusta.
Northern Ireland was a fractious part of the world in which to grow up. Before he turned pro, Clarke had a job setting up the bar in a club. One night, the club got a warning that there was a bomb inside. Clarke and the rest of the crew quickly vacated, and fifteen minutes later, the place exploded.
Loyalties were sometimes conflicting. Clarke's birthplace in Northern Ireland gave him British citizenship. But his sports—golf and rugby—are organized on an all-Ireland basis. So when Ireland plays England in rugby, for example, Clarke roots hard for the Irish side even though he now lives near London. He played his amateur golf all over Ireland, and his charitable foundation supports junior golf on both sides of the border. Six years ago, a bomb went off not far from Dungannon in Omagh, killing more than a dozen people. The next month, Clarke organized a fund-raising tournament outside Dublin, sending close to $700,000 over the border to help the victims in Northern Ireland. A few months later, he named his first child Tyrone, which is the name of the county in which both Dungannon and Omagh are located.
Clarke tries to remain apolitical. Friends explain that there is nothing he could say about politics in Ireland that would not irritate one or another party to its conflicts, in a place where people are prone to venting their irritation violently. An unexpected question about whether he considers himself Irish, British, Northern Irish or European strikes Clarke as too close to political. "I'm not going there," he snaps, and walks away.
Temper, or as Clarke has put it, "losing my head all the time," has been one of the issues he's struggled with. A bad shot can get Clarke angry or despondent. His body language changes, and instead of striding along with a swagger, he'll walk head down, brooding. His next shot can suffer for it. Clarke has worked for several years with American sports psychologist Bob Rotella to overcome this.
"The thing I'm working on most is forgetting about my poor shots and getting on with the next one," Clarke says in a gentle brogue that makes "poor" sound like "purr." "I'm dealing with it a little better than I used to. I still get perturbed, but then I get on with it and hit the next shot. It's frustration more than temper."
Frustration seemed to play a role a few weeks after the Players Championship, when Clarke parted company with caddie Fitzgerald, who has been his friend since their days together in Irish amateur golf. In a statement, Clarke acknowledged that he'd been "hard" on Fitzgerald on occasion and that both men realized that it was necessary to end the partnership in order to preserve the friendship.
Frustration also marred Clarke's first foray into the United States, when he was still a teenager. After stamping himself as a comer in Irish junior golf, Clarke was recruited by Wake Forest. He stayed there a little more than a semester. He quit abruptly, apparently feeling that he was good enough to be playing for the Deacons and unwilling to wait for the upperclassmen ahead of him to graduate. "The coach [Jesse Haddock] and I didn't really see eye to eye. We had a conflict of personalities," Clarke says.