By RICK BROWN, PCC Senior Reporter

Darren Clarke has always enjoyed taking a big bite out of life. 

“I still try to enjoy myself, and I do enjoy myself,” Clarke said, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. “People at home used to think I just played golf and went to the bar. But I worked really hard.”

Clarke, 50, a native of Northern Ireland, is in his first full season on the PGA Tour Champions and brought an impressive resume with him to this week’s Principal Charity Classic. 

He won 15 times on the European Tour and three times on the PGA Tour. He played on five Ryder Cup teams, and was captain of the European team in 2016. His victory in the 2011 Open Championship. his 54thcareer start in a major championship, was his marquee moment.

“I’ve sort of lived my life like a multiple major champion, anyway,” Clarke said. “I tend to enjoy myself.”

Being a rookie at 50 also brings a smile to Clarke’s face.

“Weird, isn’t it?” Clarke said. “It’s a bit strange. It’s great.”

Clarke is making his first appearance at the Principal Charity Classic. A man who cut his teeth on links golf has a new challenge this week. He’s taking a crash course on dealing with Wakonda’s rolling hills and tricky greens.

Clarke finished in a tie for 10th, 16thand second in his first three events this season on the PGA Tour Champions, but he’s struggled to get in contention in the weeks that have followed.

“I’ve got to putt a little better,” Clarke said.

Clarke is in Des Moines because he’s not lost his zest to compete.

“We’re all out here because we’re competitors,” Clarke said. “It’s a bit more relaxed. But as soon as the gun goes off Friday, the competitor comes out again.”

Clarke has found that the level of golf on the PGA Tour Champions is higher than the general public realizes.

“The scores are remarkable for the severity of the courses that we are playing,” Clarke said. “A lot of people think we’re playing courses at 6,800 yards long with flags in the middle of the greens and greens that are running at 10 on the stimpmeter. It’s a far cry from that. I’m getting more comfortable. I’ve got to do a lot of work on my putting and try to sharpen that up. It hasn’t been good enough.”

Two moments in Clarke’s career stand above the rest. The 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s is one of them. The 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland, is the other.

Clarke was playing in that 2006 Ryder Cup weeks after his wife, Heather, had passed away from breast cancer.  European captain Ian Woosnam selected him as an at-large member of the team.

“It was a very difficult and sad time in my life,” Clarke said. “But it was also a very positive time in my life because of the support I was given. It’s hard to put into words properly. Because my wife had just passed away. But she had said to me on her death bed, “If Woosie asks you to play, play.’ ”

Clarke did play, winning all three of his matches as the European team won, 18.5-9.5. 

“Looking back, to it, the support I received from the American team, the American fans and our home fans as well really helped me,” Clarke said.

His singles match, against Iowa native Zach Johnson, ended on the 16thgreen. Tears came to Clarke’s eyes when he shook hands with Johnson following his 3 and 2 victory. There was not a dry eye to be had.

“People go through that all the time,” Clarke said. “It just so happens mine was in the public eye. People lose wives to cancer, or husbands to cancer. It would be a lie if I told you I went into it without trepidation. But the support everyone gave me was incredible.”

Clarke’s 2011 Open Championship completed a lifelong dream.

“The party afterwards was a nice week as well,” Clarke said.

Darren’s career also includes victories on the South African Tour and Japan Tour. Now he finds himself playing in the middle of Iowa.

“When you think about getting around the country and getting around the world, we’re very fortunate as professional golfers,” Clarke said. “I’ve traveled and played in places around the world. No other job would have afforded me the pleasure of doing that. I’ve been introduced to different people, different cultures, different beers from all over the world.”