Craftsman Clarke showcases dying art of shot-making
Walking the 18 holes to witness first hand all 70 strokes played in Darren Clarke's final round at the 140th Open Championship was a rare privilege.
This was, of course, such a popular win for one of European golf's favourite sons.
The emotion that cascaded from the grandstands surrounding the final green as Clarke made his victory march at Royal St George's will live long in the memory.
But just as enduring, and more significant, was the calibre and nature of the golf played by the 42-year-old from Northern Ireland to claim his first major title.
In an age when big-hitting beasts relentlessly roll off the golfing production line, it was so refreshing to watch a craftsman at work. Against the backdrop of often violent elements and challenging terrain, Clarke used the 14 tools in his bag to create a masterpiece.
So much of the modern game is about generating maximum clubhead speed and taking advantage of huge sweet spots that the craft of shotmaking has become a dying art and the game is the poorer for it.
Clarke's virtuoso display was a throwback to a different age and refreshingly proved that to conquer a tough links course in windy conditions you need more than a gym-honed physique and the ability to belt a golf ball into the next time zone.
It took Clarke 20 attempts to find the winning formula at the Open - photo: AP.
With his mind positive and his mood serene, Clarke was able to execute the biggest round of his life with a rare mixture of shots. Some punched low with little spin, others smacked high to ride the wind - and all with total control.
In successive holes to the turn, the new Open champion struck a nine iron 76 yards, a sand wedge 105 yards, a four iron 171 yards, an eight iron 198 yards, a five iron 183 yards and a seven iron 178 yards.
The piece-de-resistance came at the 14th - the hole that effectively won him the Championship. After seeing Dustin Johnson blast out of bounds, Clarke hit an exquisite seven iron 127 yards into the heart of the green to ensure a crucial par that had him leaving the most treacherous hole on the back nine with a four-stroke lead.
Naturally the wind direction has a large bearing on how far a golf ball will travel, but the point is Clarke was using varying implements for a variety of distances and treating the gusts as a help rather than a hindrance.
In the third round we saw 22-year-old Rickie Fowler doing the same thing and revelling in the unique challenge of seaside golf. The young American's 68 - compiled in wretched conditions - was a round of true substance and shows that the emerging generation can, if they are of the right mind, embrace and prosper in this form of the game.
At the same age as Fowler, US Open champion Rory McIlroy is less enamoured with links golf in the wind. "I'm not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather," Clarke's Northern Ireland compatriot said.
"And there's no point in changing your game for one week in a year," McIlroy added.
He may be condemned for his candour. This is a quote that could haunt the young star for years to come because surely adapting your golf to suit the conditions is the game's essence.
McIlroy's manager Andrew "Chubby" Chandler has already made a well-reasoned defence on behalf of his client. "Why would he change what he's got," Chandler told BBC Sport.
"What will happen is that he'll gradually learn to play the shots that Darren learned to play 15 years ago, but you know at 22 he's not got the experience.
"It won't be a case of changing his game, he doesn't need to do that because he has a game that can win many, many golf tournaments. He'll get a couple of times at the Open when the wind is not up, but he'll learn.
"He's already learned a hell of a lot in a year. Last year he had no idea (of how to play in the wind) and this year he was much, much better.
"You guys get them when they're disappointed and they've just finished, so what comes out of their mouth 'Bubba Watson style' isn't always what they're really thinking," Chandler added.
It took Clarke 20 attempts to find the winning formula at the Open and this was only McIlroy's fourth Championship.
This was the one where everything fell into place for Clarke. He was on the right side of the draw and even had the lucky omen of being allocated the same locker as 1993 champion Greg Norman.
But to take full advantage in the way that he did, Clarke still needed the innate and acquired skills of a golfing craftsman. There are many reasons to celebrate this long overdue maiden major victory and one of the biggest is that it took these qualities to make it happen.