I have to admit the announcement of Christy O’Connor Jnr’s death in Tenerife yesterday hit me hard.
This was a man for whom I have so much admiration. When I arrived on the European Tour in 1987, he was one of the first individuals, along with Des Smyth and Eamonn Darcy, to take me under their wings, showing me the ropes while also plundering my bank account every Tuesday during fourball practice!
Christy was old school, a great golfer who understood the value of the opportunity that the blossoming Tour presented to his career.
Not short on selling himself, he never took anything for granted, both on and off the course. He was very much his own man and his infectious personality meant he was always in demand — but he always made time for his own, and took great pride in the performances of the young guns like Ronan Rafferty and Philip Walton in my early years.
Following in the footsteps of his more famous uncle, Christy O’Connor Snr’s golfing legacy must undoubtedly have been a daunting companion but it was one that Junior embraced with gusto — finding lasting secrets the hardest way, not from a mentor or video lesson but out of the dirt through the trial and error of beating balls into a cavernous sky.
Once perfected, his game was simple, repeatable, and remarkably effective. Never the longest player, Christy’s talent lay in his unerring accuracy of the tee box coupled with his ability to play and shape whatever shot was required.
Most of all, he had the heart of a lion focused on bringing home his prey — his relaxed disposition often unnerving his opponents, many of whom had loftier reputations — none more so than Fred Couples, when winning their famous Ryder Cup duel with his most famous shot, a two iron to 4ft on the final green at the Belfry in 1989.
Fiercely proud of his nationality and heritage, Christy and his closest golfing friends, Eamonn Darcy and Des Smyth, formed a triumvirate on the tour that not only represented our country with dignity and honour but also paved the route for Rafferty Walton, Clarke, and McGinley, and latterly McDowell, McIlroy, and Lowry.
Full of life, much like his great uncle before him, Christy wasn’t afraid to break down any of the perceived inferiority barriers, always making himself available to offer advice and no shortage of entertainment to the younger emerging Irish talent on tour.
As a player, he would be the first to recognise he wasn’t the greatest Irishman to ever play the game of golf (he won four times on the European Tour, including the Irish Open at Woodbrook in 1975, played in two Ryder Cups and won two back-to-back British Open Senior titles in 1999 and 2000), but one felt that trophies were never Christy’s overriding priority in life.
First and foremost, he was a dedicated family man who prioritised enjoying life and the many friendships it brought him on and off the course.
He was also a very accomplished and a proven golf architect, who developed courses in the manner of his game, in that they demanded a sound golfing strategy and skillset.
He will be remembered for his charitable work but for most he will be remembered as “Christy Jnr”, a man as comfortable conversing with aristocracy as he was with his local community. Larger than life, he enjoyed nothing better than playing the crowd and relating old stories (many of which were embellished to greater effect over a pint of stout) or singing a song and playing the spoons.
A livewire who was as engaging first thing in the morning as he was late at night, it is hard to believe the most immortal soul among us is now gone.
In time, I firmly believe that Christy Jnr’s legacy will be as much about his contribution as a person as his golfing career, and no one should be more proud of that than his wonderful wife Ann, his daughter Ann, and son Nigel.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved