Darren Clarke has built up a lot of goodwill in his time spent playing golf at the Sanford International Presented by Cambria PGA TOUR Champions golf tournament, which just wrapped up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The native of Northern Ireland worked his way up the leaderboard on Sunday, enduring strong winds, warm weather and a dramatic sudden-death playoff with K.J. Choi and Steve Flesch to emerge as champion.
It was the third title of the PGA TOUR Champions season for Clarke, whose win was worth $270,000.
Clarke, the 2011 British Open champion, birdied the 18th hole on Sunday with a 60-foot putt to finish his final round with a 5-under 65, at 12-under par at Minnehaha Country Club. That put him in second place at the time, a stroke behind Flesch, who was still on the course when Clarke finished.
Flesch’s bogey on 18 created a three-way tie and set up the Sanford International’s first-ever sudden death playoff.
‘One of my favorite golf courses’
On the first playoff hole, Flesch’s bogey meant it was down to Clarke and Choi, who then played No. 18 again. Clarke’s long drive — he was close enough to the green on this 391-yard hole to hit his approach shot with his putter — gave him a 6-footer for a birdie and the win.
“I shot 62 one day here last year and Minnehaha quickly became one of my favorite golf courses,” said Clarke, who joined Steve Stricker, Rocco Mediate and Miguel Ángel Jiménez as Sanford International champions. “I can’t wait to come back again.”
A year ago during the pandemic, the Sanford International was the first tournament to welcome the return of spectators. Many of those same people were surrounding the 18th green when Clarke took the microphone and addressed the crowd.
More in the world than golf
“It was incredible then and it was incredible again this week,” Clarke said. “This is one of our best attended, most supported tournaments on the Champions TOUR. All the fans who took the time to come out and watch us this week, thank you.
“There’s more going on in the world right now than just professional golf,” he added. “Sanford providing front-line care is much more important … thank you very much.”
The fourth annual event included the return of the Birdies Give Back program. Those who participated had the opportunity to pledge a one-time amount or a per-birdie amount with 100% of the money directed to Sanford Children’s Hospital. With help from Clarke — he recorded 20 birdies, counting the playoff — the pros had 780 birdies for the tournament.
It also included the Children’s Walk from Sanford Children’s Hospital to Minnehaha Country Club.
“I want to give special recognition to the front-line caregivers at Sanford Health and around this country,” Sanford president and CEO Bill Gassen said. “We have to recognize their tireless sacrifice over the last 18 months. We’re grateful for all they’ve done.”
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