Christy O’Connor Jr. with the British Senior Open trophy in 2000. Inpho photo.
By John Manley
Tributes from around the golfing and sporting world have been flowing in following the death of Irish golfing legend Christy O’Connor Jr.
O’Connor died in his sleep on Wednesday, January 6 during a family holiday in Tenerife, in the Spanish Canary Islands. He was 67.
O’Connor, a Galway native, came from an illustrious golfing lineage and was named after his uncle, Christy O’Connor, thus the suffix added to his name.
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The younger O’Connor is best known for his role in helping Europe win the 1989 Ryder Cup at the Belfry in England.
Matched against Fred Couples in singles play on Sunday, O’Connor hit a 2-iron to four feet of the cup, which was eventually good enough to force Couples to concede the match, resulting in a 14-14 tie, whereby Europe retained the trophy.
That shot has gone down in golfing lore.
O’Connor turned professional in 1967 at the age of 17 and became a stalwart of the European Tour from its official inception in 1972.
He posted four victories on this circuit, including the 1975 Irish Open at Woodbrook in Bray, County Wicklow and the 1992 British Masters in a playoff at Woburn as the oldest man in the field at the age of 44.
He and Ian Baker-Finch were denied victory six years earlier by David Feherty in a playoff in the Scottish Open.
O’Connor Jr. successfully transitioned to the American Champions Tour upon reaching age 50.
He triumphed twice in 1999, winning both the State Farm Senior Classic in Hunt Valley, Maryland, and the Foremost Insurance Championship in Ada, Michigan six weeks later.
That same year, at Royal Portrush, he won the first of consecutive Senior British Opens, the second of which came at Royal County Down.
O’Connor also made a good showing in the British Open on the three occasions in which he managed to finish in the top 10.
His best finish was a tie for third place in Sandy Lyle’s 1985 Open at Royal St. George’s in Scotland.
His lone appearance in a Major other than the British Open came in the 1977 Masters, where he missed the cut.
Life was not all sunshine and sugar for O’Connor.
The sweet was tinged with plenty of bitter, never more so than when he lost his 17-year-old son Darren in an automobile accident in 1998.
A scant few years later, he withdrew from life as a touring pro to concentrate on golf course design in Ireland, which afforded him much more time to spend with his wife Ann, daughter Ann, and son Nigel, all of whom survive him, as does his uncle, now 91.
O’Connor had previously cheated death, surviving a helicopter crash in 1992, and a muscular disease that struck him in 1995.
“He was the life and soul of every party,” said fellow Irish pro Eamonn Darcy.
“Ask anybody on tour and they will tell you the same thing. He would always be the one to get the party going if the atmosphere on tour was a bit flat. He was very dedicated to his family and loved them to bits. Obviously, that is true of a lot of people, but it was so true for Christy.
“He was a great player and a great friend. He had a great life, but I’m just sorry it went so quickly and so suddenly, without time to say goodbye.
It’s hard to comprehend. I only had dinner with him last week. Christy obviously had big boots to fill after his uncle, but I never thought Christy Senior would be burying his nephew.”