Irish Ryder Cup star Darren Clarke has lost his wife to breast cancer, after she passed away peacefully this weekend at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital.

Heather Clarke, who was 39, was first diagnosed with the illness in 2002 and had amazed doctors with her optimism and fighting spirit throughout her four year battle. She encouraged her husband to continue playing through her illness, something which he ceased to do following this year’s Open Championship at Hoylake.

She leaves behind her husband and their two sons, Tyrone (8) and Conor (5), and Clarke paid her a moving tribute on Sunday morning when the sad news was announced.

“Heather’s courage and bravery throughout the last two years when she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer has been an inspiration,” he said.

“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.”

The pair met in an Irish nightclub, when a nervous Clarke asked her to dance. He then proceeded to spill a drink all over her and accidentally stubbed a cigarette out on her clothes. She clearly forgave him and the couple married in 1996. The Ulsterman, who is 38 today, said later in a statement that he would be returning to the game “when he feels ready”.

Several players wore black ribbons on their caps as a mark of respect during yesterday’s final round at the International in Colorado, USA. At the KLM Open in Holland on the European Tour all of the players wore black armbands. No funeral plans have been finalised yet.