Himself deserves place among the greats

CHRISTY O’CONNOR SNR celebrates his 87th birthday tomorrow.

One of this country’s most successful and charismatic sportsmen enjoys sound health and on the odd occasion has been known to leave his Clontarf home to enjoy the company of old friends at nearby Royal Dublin, where he presided over affairs as the club professional for many years.

He will not be as well known to the modern generation as Pádraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke but he was one of the game’s greatest ball strikers in his pomp and that status will not be lost in the mists of time.

The compliments keep rolling in. His old Ryder Cup colleague and famed BBC commentator, Peter Alliss, was effusive in his praise over the last few days and it was good, too, to see O’Connor’s name listed among The 100 Greatest Golfers, a book recently written by English golf journalist Andy Farrell.

The anecdotes within its pages are entertaining, with many concerning the thoughts and words of the great US golfer Lee Trevino.

‘Supermex’, as he was known, was rarely lost for a word and came up with this gem: “He flows through the ball like fine wine. To me, only three players have ever looked entirely natural swinging a golf club — Christy O’Connor, Roberto de Vicenzo and Neil Coles.”

Farrell put his head on the block in coming up with such a title for his book, given how many outstanding players there have been in the last 150 years or so. To his credit, he acknowledged this country’s finest with amateur Joe Carr and major championship winners Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy joining Christy Snr in its pages.

The author quotes from the late, esteemed Peter Dobereiner who once observed: “You only have to see Christy’s fluid, self-taught swing to appreciate this is a man to be numbered among the very best in the history of golf.” Henry Longhurst was a famous scribe from an even earlier era who wrote that O’Connor swung the club “by the pure light of nature“.

And one of several lovely tales concerning the man’s golfing genius is also recounted: “The legendary story goes of a young pup boasting about hitting a shorter club into a par three than Himself as O’Connor was known, who promptly found the green with every club in his bag, including the putter.”

Then there was a centenary exhibition at Westward Ho! in 1964 where O’Connor and Max Faulkner played in Norfolk jackets, breeches and deerstalkers with five hickory clubs against the modern attire and equipment of Alliss and Brian Huggett. O’Connor was the star throughout, fading, drawing, hitting low or high at will and sealed the win by pitching in from 35 yards over a stream at the last hole.

“Himself was a genius, a legend,” said Alliss, his foursomes partner in a number of O’Connor’s 10 successive Ryder Cup appearances. Only a couple of days ago, he recalled a Ryder Cup victory the pair enjoyed over the formidable American partnership of Doug Ford and Art Wall.

“We were two up with three to play and they were in trouble on the 16th, a decent par five of about 530 yards with a rolling fairway and water to the right of the green,” Alliss recalled.

“I hit a good drive onto a downslope and they were nowhere near the green in three before we hit our second.

“Christy and I had a wonderful relationship. We never apologised to each other. So I’m looking at this shot and I’m fancying Christy to knock a four iron up the fairway leaving me to knock a pitch on the green. That would be a 3&2 win against two of the most formidable American players.

“Then what do you think Christy says? ‘Ah, I’ll just cut up a driver’. So I looked at the lie and noted the wind coming from the left and the water to the right of the green. But we had pledged to trust each other and while all these thoughts are going through my head, Christy hit it to 12 feet of the hole.”

And lest we paint a holier than thou picture of Christy, let us also recount Andy Farrell’s description of a famous occasion at a tournament in Paris.

“After a fog delay had ruled out play the previous day, O’Connor was feeling the worse for wear the next morning, so he ordered a golf writer to collect a jug of black coffee, containing the hair of the dog, and to proceed 250 yards down the right side of the first fairway and head 20 yards into the woods. A ball arrived at the precise spot, followed by Himself, who drained the lot.” Happy 87th birthday and peaceful Christmas to one hell of an Irishman.

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