Wife of golf's Darren Clarke dies after losing cancer battle

By ANDREW LEVY

Last updated at 19:52 13 August 2006


When golf star Darren Clarke's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, she ordered him to 'get out and play'.

Yesterday, Heather, 39, whom he described as 'the most precious thing in my life', lost her brave battle at London's Royal Marsden Hospital.

Clarke, who has helped Europe to victory in three Ryder Cups and is an 11-time winner on the European Tour, was last night said to be 'devastated' by the loss.

He had already announced a break from the sport three weeks ago and yesterday said he would return only 'when he feels ready'. He is currently looking after the couple's two young children, Tyrone, eight, and Conor, five.

In an emotional tribute, he said: 'Heather's courage and bravery throughout the last two years when she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer has been an inspiration.

'Heather never complained once throughout her ordeal and we will all miss her greatly.

She was a wonderful and enormously supportive wife, mother and friend.'

Clarke, who turns 38 today, went professional in 1990 and has amassed career earnings of £9.8million, reaching a world ranking of ninth at one stage. His collection of prestigious titles include the 2000 World Match Play Championship, where he beat Tiger Woods in the final.

He has also played for Europe in four consecutive Ryder Cups, helping them to victory in 1997, 2002 and 2004.

Clarke met hairdresser Heather in a nightclub and they married in 1996 at a ceremony near her home in Portrush, County Antrim, before moving to Sunningdale in Berkshire. Their world was turned upside down in 2002 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had an operation to remove the growth.

'After what's happened to Heather I have a different perspective,' he said at the time.

'It's made me grateful for what I have and more determined than ever to make the most of it.'

Secondary liver cancer was diagnosed in November 2004, however, and Heather later developed two small tumours on her lung.

Clarke had cut back his busy schedule in recent months and announced a complete break from the sport last month after missing the half-way cut at the British Open championship.

He is now almost certain to miss the Ryder Cup in six weeks' time when it is staged in Ireland for the first time.

The couple were committed supporters of cancer awareness and Clarke recently auctioned a European Tour 'Shot of the Month' trophy to raise money for a breast cancer charity.

Close friend and fellow golf professional Paul McGinley said yesterday: 'You don't ever want to see anybody go - you always hold out hope right to the last minute. But boy, she put up some battle.

'It has been a tough ride for us all the last couple of years but especially for Darren.

He will have some issues to deal with now but we will fully support him in any way we can.'

Ryder Cup Captain Ian Woosnam said: 'All the players and the guys out here on tour have known that Heather has been struggling for a couple of years now and we all just feel very sorry for Darren and sorry for his family at this time.'

The flag was flying at half mast yesterday at Dungannon Golf Club in County Tyrone, where Clarke learned his game as a teenager.

Honorary Secretary Sean Hughes said: 'We are all truly saddened because she was a lovely, beautiful girl who supported Darren throughout her illness.'

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