By Phil Rice
The death at 91 of Christy O’Connor Snr last Saturday marks the end of an era in world golf and the loss to Ireland of one of it’s greatest ever sportsmen. Christy never won a major championship, his greatest regret, but he finished in the top-10 of The Open on ten occasions.
In his time European players didn’t travel to compete in the US majors so his participation was limited to the British Open.
Affectionately known throughout the world of golf as ‘Himself,’ Christy possessed one of the most admired swings in the game.
Nine-time major winner Gary Player insists, “He and Sam Snead were the two greatest natural players the world has ever seen.” His Ryder Cup partner and colleague Peter Allis said, “Christy was a genius, a legend of Irish golf, in fact golf in general.”
A legend indeed, he will be remembered for setting milestones in golf during his life. He won the first four-figure prize in European golf, (The Penfold in 1955), and later won the first five figure prize, (The John Player Classic in 1970). In total he won 25 European Tour titles and 10 Irish PGA titles.
He was runner-up in the 1965 British Open at Royal Birkdale and afterwards admitted, “Maybe I tried too hard, I just wanted to win it so badly.” Lee Trevino a double winner of The Open once said of Christy, “His swing flows like a fine wine.”
The late Seve Ballesteros said, “His swing was the most natural I have ever seen.”
High praise indeed, but Christy was never happier than when he was practising at his home club Royal Dublin.
Until very recently he could be found hitting wedge shots at the back of the clubhouse of the north Dublin club, away from prying eyes. One of Christy’s prized possessions was a signed photograph of him and President Bill Clinton playing golf together with the inscription “Christy thanks for a wonderful day, how I wish I could have your swing!”
He was one of Ireland’s most popular sporting sons and a trailblazer for the successful Irish golfers who have gone on to win majors in recent years.
Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke commented at the weekend: “Christy was in many ways the father of Irish golf and his death so soon after his nephew Christy Jnr, means that Ireland has lost two golfing legends in five months.”
Paul McGinley said,“RIP Christy Senior, you were an inspiration and trailblazer for Irish golf throughout the world.”