Five years ago, Darren Clarke was a broken man in need of a shoulder
to cry on. He had been at his wife's side as she battled, then succumbed
128 days ago, Japan was a country in need of a world-wide hug. They were
devastated by an earthquake and a tsunami that caused a nuclear
disaster. 22,000 people lost their lives and the country is still in disarray.
Clarke's recovery is just about complete, while Japan is a long way
from being whole again. But on Sunday, they both demonstrated their
resiliency, holding off the heavily favored Americans, showing the
world that no matter how bad things get, there is still reason to hope,
believe, and persevere.
Clarke ranked 111th in the world, had become less significant than
Tiger Woods is in golf right now. He wasn't given much of a chance to
win the British Open, after all, he hadn't finished in the top-10 of a
major since 2001. His game, as well as his body, weren't exactly
a picture of strength. But Clarke still believed that he could win a
major at the ripe old age of 42. He didn't care that he had played
19 times in the Open Championship and had never even sniffed the
Battling the elements and a trio of Americans that included Dustin
Johnson, Phil Mickelson, and Ricky Fowler, who were all younger
and more talented than himself, Clarke stuck to his game plan and
waged a fierce battle on his way to winning the British Open.
Japan was playing in the World Cup final for the first time. In fact,
this was the first time they had reached the final in any major tournament.
They had lost to the Americans in their 25 previous meetings. The
task of beating the Americans in the World Cup was akin to a bunch
of college kids trying to upset the Soviet Union in hockey game during
the 1980 Winter Olympics. Japan was the smallest team in the tournament,
but they played with the biggest heart.
They battled back to tie the United States not once, but twice. With
not much left in the tank, they found a way to beat the Stars and Stripes
in penalty kicks and win their first-ever World Cup. As they did throughout
the tournament, they unfurled a banner that read, "Thank you world for
your support." Their win set off a wild celebration back home in Japan
and helped ease its pain, if even for just a few days.
It was easy to be happy for Darren Clarke. He's the everyman, not
your typical golfer. One who likes his Guinness, and one who likes to
close down the local pubs in the wee hours of the morning. American
player after American went out of their way to congratulate Clarke,
as he is universally loved and respected by everyone on tour. And
after all he's been through, you couldn't blame him for shedding a tear
as he walked down the 18th fairway on his way to history.
Losing the World Cup was shocking for the United States team and
disappointing for all of us who supported and cheered them on. But
it wasn't that hard to be happy for Japan after all that country has been
through. As Hope Solo said, "It was a tough loss for us, but if any
country was going to beat us for the World Cup, I'm kind of glad it