Northern Ireland

Darren Clarke back in Northern Ireland after Open win

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Open 2011: How Darren Clarke won the Open

Golfer Darren Clarke has arrived back in Northern Ireland after his triumph at the Open on Sunday.

Clarke clinched his maiden major title with a three-shot victory at Royal St George's in Kent.

He flew into Belfast City Airport at lunchtime accompanied by the Claret Jug - the most famous trophy in golf.

The Dungannon golfer was then reunited with his two sons before showing off the trophy at a hotel in Portballintrae on the north coast.

Reflecting on his victory, he said: "I think I'm definitely a better player now than I was 10 years ago and yes I definitely appreciate an awful lot more what I've achieved now than what I did then.

"Ten years ago I did take an awful lot of things for granted

"It's much easier to perform well with a smile on your face than a scowl on your face."

Earlier, Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers led the tributes following the 42-year-old's triumph.

First Minister Peter Robinson said there was "no more deserving or popular a winner than Darren".

"I, along with all the people of Northern Ireland, would like to congratulate him on becoming the Open champion," he said.

"Scotland may be the spiritual home of golf but Northern Ireland is unquestionably home to the world's best golfers.

Image caption Darren Clarke lifts the Open trophy on Sunday

"I once again would say to the golfing world to come to Northern Ireland to see for themselves why we are the home of golf's champions."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that over the four days of the tournament, Clarke had "conducted himself with a grace and quiet determination that is nothing short of outstanding".

Clarke hugged his mother Hetty, father Godfrey and fiancee Alison Campbell as he claimed the title of 2011 Open champion on Sunday.

He became only the second Northern Irishman to win the Open after Fred Daly in 1947 and is NI's third major champion in just over a year.

It follows the successive US Open wins of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

Clarke, who lost his wife Heather to breast cancer in 2006, said he had been writing his acceptance speech for 20 years and it had been "a long, bumpy road".

He paid tribute to Heather and to their sons Tyrone and Conor.

"I've had good and bad things happen to me on the way," he said.

"Sometimes I was good, sometimes I was bad, but I have had so much support from everyone.

"This means a lot to me and my family and as you may know there is someone up there looking down on me as well.

'Pinnacle'

"I can't thank you enough for the support I've had this past four days. The roaring has helped me to stand here and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart."

Hetty Clarke said she had always been convinced her son would collect a major title.

"I am so delighted for Darren, he has worked so hard all these years and this is the pinnacle," she added.

"We have been here 20 years with Darren, following him at every Open and it just couldn't get any better than this.

"Everybody knew he had the talent, it was just for him to believe he had the talent and it came through this week."

Godfrey Clarke described his son's achievement as "absolutely marvellous".

"It is another one for Northern Ireland and I couldn't really put it into words," he said.

"We are totally over the moon for him and all the family."

Clarke began his career at Dungannon Golf Club in County Tyrone and is an honorary life member there.

Sean Hughes, who is honorary secretary of the club, said the golfer was a "great ambassador" for Northern Ireland.

"I was captain here in 1987, Darren was 17 then and I remember the television cameras coming down to watch him and he played shots in from the seventh fairway to the green, peppering the flag all the time," he added.

"We knew he was going to be a star for he had that charisma about him."

More on this story