|Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland walks off the 17th green during a practice round ahead of the British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes, England, on Monday, July 16, 2012. (Phil Noble/Reuters)
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND - Darren Clarke has emptied his share of pint glasses over the past year but he never stared at the bottom of an empty Claret Jug.
The defending British Open champion had to hand over the coveted trophy Monday morning in front of the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, his reign as "The Champion Golfer of the Year" completed.
In a bit of a surprising turn, the Northern Irishman, who celebrated with a pint of Guinness at his post-win press conference at Royal St. George's, said Monday he never drank from the trophy, his respect for it too great to sully it with any kind of grog.
"No, I didn't. (Not) at any stage did I put any fluid in it at all, nothing. It's just too special a trophy," said the 43-year-old, who fulfilled his golfing life's ambition by winning the 2011 British Open. "I have so much respect for the Open Championship, and I couldn't get myself to do it. I thought about it a few times, but I couldn't get myself to do it. My replica has had, on the other hand, but that one hasn't."
Not that he hadn't thought about imbibing from the famous trophy.
"I was tempted on the Sunday evening (after he won) and the Monday evening and the Tuesday evening and the Wednesday evening and for about two weeks afterwards. I never managed to put anything into it. But I just thought, no, I can't do it. It took me a while, but I just ... Christmas would have been a perfect occasion for doing it, so I put it into my replica, instead."
When asked if it was the "biggest shock in golf" that Clarke wouldn't drink from the Jug, he replied: "I don't need to have a jug to drink out of."
But he did need it to get out of a speeding ticket in Killarney, when the local gendarme spotted the trophy in the back seat of Clarke's car.
We might view the Stanley Cup as the most famous trophy in sports and it has certainly been the recepticle for various beverages, not to mention part of a few misadventures.
Former Open champion Stewart Cink used the Jug for some Independence Day celebrations during his reign -- barbeque sauce had to be cleaned out of it before he turned it in -- and Clarke said everybody is entitled to celebrate how they wish.
"I think everybody that's been fortunate to have their hands on the trophy have done different things with it. All I can really comment on is my point of view of it. I just decided that the trophy was too special for me to put anything into it," he said.
Clarke, who has had his struggles since winning last year, said he's put too much pressure on himself to play like the British Open champion.
Things likely aren't going to get any easier this week.
A wet stretch of weather here has sprouted lavish rough that 14-time major winner Tiger Woods termed "unplayable" in spots (which a couple of British papers went to town on, stretching it into Woods calling Lytham "unplayable."
"Oh my God," Woods was quoted as saying about the cabbage. "It's just that you can't get out of it. The bottom six inches is so lush."
When they're talking about the "bottom six inches," you know it's deep.
"The wispy stuff we've always faced at every British Open, but at the bottom it's almost unplayable in some places. I've never seen the rough this high or thick or dense," said Woods.
Long-hitting Masters champ Bubba Watson said the rough will take the driver out of his hands.
"This is hay that is 15 yards off the fairway, 10 yards off on some of the holes, and you might not find your ball. You have to play smart," said Watson. "I mean, yes, there could be a day out of four days that I can just beat driver everywhere and play great golf, but four days in a row to get that lucky, to not have bad lie or find all my balls, I mean, that would be tough to do."
Tough sounds like it will be the word of the week.