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June 26, 2019

Darren Clarke

Notre Dame, Indiana

THE MODERATOR: It's my pleasure to welcome Darren Clarke here into the media center. Darren, the 2011 Open Champion, playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, and I'll start off with that. How has it been playing your first full season on the 50-plus circuit?

DARREN CLARKE: Yeah, interesting. You know, the guys can play. The guys can flat-out play. Some of the scoring, I'm sure you guys all know, you see some of the scores, it's lights out. It's a different mentality. For the most part, we play a three-rounds as opposed to a four-round tournament, and for those three rounds, the guys go after it from round one. It's a total different way of course management, strategy, what way we're going to play. I've had a couple of decent weeks, a couple of chances to get right in there. Didn't quite manage to win one yet, but really enjoying it. Good fun.

Q. Three top 10s this year. How do you feel like the game is rounding into shape heading into this week?
DARREN CLARKE: Yeah, good. I've always been the whole way through my career a little streaky on the greens, and hopefully I'll have one of those good streaky weeks this week on these greens. Tee to green I'm very happy where my game is at and just got to sharpen up my scoring a little bit better. But from what I'm trying to do, I'm pretty happy where I'm at.

THE MODERATOR: You played nine yesterday, playing nine today. What do you think of the course so far?

DARREN CLARKE: I think the course is fabulous, I really do. I think the USGA has done a really good job. I think you set it up perfectly. No. 4, changing it from a par-5 to a par-4, whenever you've got a par-5 green, not quite so sure. It's going to be a tough hole, that hole, this whole week.

But the whole course, I think, is wonderful. Certainly I wish when I was growing up at university I had a course like this to come and play.

Q. I don't know if you've ever been to South Bend before --
DARREN CLARKE: No, first time.

Q. And of course you know the reputation of Notre Dame.

Q. So would it be appropriate for a man from Northern Ireland to win in the land of the Fighting Irish?
DARREN CLARKE: Well, I'm still Irish, aren't I, still from the island of Ireland. I can be Fighting Irish whenever I need to be, as well, so hopefully -- that would be pretty cool.

Yesterday, one of the treats we had yesterday was when I would go and register and then you could walk around the stadium, that's just unreal. We don't have over in the UK and Europe, we don't have collegiate sports like you have over here, and to see a stadium that big just for college football was huge. It was wonderful.

Q. And Liverpool actually is going to play --
DARREN CLARKE: I read that, too, yeah.

Q. Do you remember through the years anything about Notre Dame or watching them or following them?
DARREN CLARKE: Well, certainly I've watched some of them. Maybe stuck in a bar in New York somewhere or maybe where I shouldn't have been, watching the Fighting Irish. Yeah, I do, quite a few times. More often than I should really admit to.

Q. Just curious, you had mentioned the greens, and Tom Watson was just in here talking about them. Is that the real trick of this place is figuring out the greens and handling not only the slopes but the approaches to them to get them in the right tiers?
DARREN CLARKE: Yeah, I think so. It's not like Pebble where the rough was very, very severe. Still thick here, but not like what they have on the big U.S. Open.

But I think the greens are so slopey that you may have a 10-foot putt with three different breaks in it. I'm sure Tom was saying the same sort of thing. So trying to judge your speed, there's very few flat, straightforward putts out there. So if you're not on your numbers with your wedges or your irons going into the greens and you're not hitting them close enough, they're not greens that you're going to -- they're not that big for a start, so when you hit it on them, you're not going to be that far away from the hole for the most part, for the majority of them.

But still, you're only going to make birdies by hitting them close. You're not going to see many long-range putts, I wouldn't imagine, holed this week because of the subtlety of the slope on the greens. When you do have wedges in your hands or sand irons or whatever, when we do have them, you've got to make the most of them and hit them close. If you don't do that, then you're going to struggle to make birdies all day.

It could end up playing great from tee to green and then getting somewhat frustrating on the greens. Not the greens' fault, just because they're tough to hole putts on.

Q. Obviously the Open Championship coming up again at Royal Portrush in Ireland. What are your thoughts on that coming up? You must be very excited.
DARREN CLARKE: Yeah, very excited. I left home last year on the 7th of December, and my first time back was two Mondays ago. I haven't been home. I've been in the Bahamas in Abaco Club in the Bahamas the whole time. That's where I'm playing the Champions Tour, at our home there. But to get back to Portrush and see all the stands up and everything ready for a big tournament on a course that I've played so many times when I was a kid, to what we're going to have in a few weeks' time is very, very exciting. The whole town is exciting, the whole atmosphere. It's going to be an incredible week. Anytime a tournament sells out within three days, all the tickets gone within three days of going on sale, you know it's going to be a pretty good atmosphere.

The town is ready, the bars are ready, the people are. We just hope all the people that bought the tickets -- there will be a few more thousand trying to sneak in, I'm sure, as well. It's Ireland. Just the way it is. But it's going to be a huge celebration of a week, and I think the guys, for those of you who haven't been to Portrush before or whatever, the golf course is an incredibly fair test. It's a good test, but a fair test. And I think the guys are going to absolutely love it because a lot of them will never have played there before. Going to play a major, usually when we play majors, you go to courses that you know, that you've played before. This is new for a lot of them, so I think they'll all really, really enjoy it.

Q. I have been to Portrush and I've had a pint at the Harbour Bar, maybe more than one --
DARREN CLARKE: Yeah, likewise.

Q. What would you tell people particularly about the course? I know the new holes got a lot of attention. Are there two or three places on that golf course that really stand out to you?
DARREN CLARKE: There's two or three places on the golf course that really stand out to me where not to hit it. It's one of those sort of things. And whether the guys can learn the golf course that quick with whatever, two, three practice rounds, that's yet to be seen, yet to be determined.

But you're going to have some wonderful views for those of you that watch on television. The ocean comes into play. Everything about -- Portrush, if you hit it in the fairway, invariably it'll stay in the fairway. And you can't say that about a lot of links golf courses because it'll bounce off one way or the other. Portrush is pretty much like Royal Birkdale in that respect. But we have quite a few greens which are just set up a little bit, quite a few runoffs off of them and what have you, and the guys will have to figure out if you're going to miss, which side you're going to miss on, right or left. And for the most part around Royal Portrush, if you miss on the right side, you'll always have a shot. If you miss on the left, you may be reaching for another golf ball. They will figure that out pretty well.

But the art and the secret of links golf in my opinion is being able to use the ground and use the ground in your favor if the weather becomes somewhat inclement, and the beauty of Harry Colt's design, which Martin Ebert has done a wonderful job of bringing it up to Open Championship standards, modernizing it, he still hasn't changed a lot of the golf course, but because it's Harry Colt, there's always a way of running the ball onto the green. That's always an option at Royal Portrush. And because of that, we can play in all sorts of bad weather because we get quite a bit over there.

It's a course where if the guys -- if they take their time, if they're trying to figure out how to play it, and they look at some of the landing areas just short of the green that they can get the ball working for them, then I'm sure they'll have a good week.

But if the guys go with driver, if they're trying to attack Royal Portrush and it's breezy or whatever, if they're trying to go with driver everywhere, they'll probably only wear half the clothes that they brought with them.

Q. You mentioned this earlier, but what you did, what Graeme did, Rory, helped lead the Open championship there, how meaningful is it to be part of that, and can you talk a little bit what it means to the whole area in general?
DARREN CLARKE: Well, it means about $150 million into the local economy, and that's a lot for a little area like we have in Portrush to the whole community. It's huge to have the pictures going around the world. I don't know how many people are going to see it, whatever, 700 million to a billion people watching it globally at some stage. You know, that sort of exposure for Northern Ireland from where we've come from many years ago. There's a few gentlemen here, same age group as myself, some younger that may not know, but obviously we have had our difficulties there in the past.

To stage one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, one of the biggest sporting events in the world there in Northern Ireland after everything that we have come through makes me feel very, very proud because if you'd have asked me that 10 years ago, 15 years ago, would we ever have the Open Championship, I'd have looked at you as if you'd been in the pub for too long or something. It was never really on the radar, and then all of a sudden it did become on the radar.

It's not just me; Rory will be proud, G-Mac will be proud. Padraig Harrington, all the Irish guys will be proud that we have one at Royal Portrush because it's one of all of our favorite golf courses.

And I think to have it there for the first time since 1951, whenever Max Faulkner won it, it's going to be an incredible week. For all the people that are lucky enough to go, it's going to be a week that they'll remember, as will the players.

Q. Assuming you're playing, right --

Q. So you will have the local knowledge --
DARREN CLARKE: Yeah, I'm exempt, so I'm lucky that way.

Q. For a while now you're still going to be able to play --

Q. But getting back to this championship, this is your first one, and did you enjoy U.S. Opens, and is this --
DARREN CLARKE: It was always --

Q. -- the same mindset for you?
DARREN CLARKE: U.S. Opens for me were somewhat like going to the dentist; you had to go, but you never really looked forward to it, because I don't really have the patience for a U.S. Open, for the old ones. You know, I don't really enjoy hitting away from the flags and trying to play smart because I can't do that. It's too much of a mental challenge, I should phrase it that way, for myself.

The one that I played nicely at Pinehurst, I played nicely because that was more linksey sort of, before they made all the changes. I had another good U.S. Open somewhere in my career, as well, and I played quite nicely. I can't remember where that was. But I played well in a couple of them and poorly in a lot of them.

It's challenging out here, don't get me wrong, but this is a little bit more -- not quite as penal as what your regular U.S. Open would have been in the past, so hopefully I plan to enjoy this one a little bit more than the ones I have done in the past.

Q. You've played this course now, and the weather has been wet, which of course doesn't surprise you from where you come from, but what do you think a good number would be for here this week if the weather continues to get better each day?
DARREN CLARKE: It depends -- it really depends how much the USGA want to firm up the greens. If somebody goes out there tomorrow and shoots whatever, 7-, 8-under, I'm sure we're all going to pay the penalty for that on Friday. But it's a possibility. The greens are a little bit receptive, so if somebody hits it on the fairway they'll have lots of chances. But they can tuck the flags away, they can put them in almost totally inaccessible flag positions. They can dictate a lot as they do, as they've done very well in the past, and what the score they want.

Obviously with the par being 70, that's a very tough par. I don't know, if somebody shoots -- what won last year?

Q. 3.
DARREN CLARKE: Three. You're looking at single digits, whatever it may be, because I'm sure as we go on, the heat gets up, the course is going to play a little bit more firmer and a little bit more difficult because you've got quite a few off the fairways where you're trying to work the ball different angles, and when the fairways get firm, then the ball -- if you don't quite it right, the ball is going to run through into the rough and then that presents its own problems, so I'm sure the course will just get trickier and trickier as the week goes on, and rightly so.

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