Our condolences go to the O’Connor family who have lost the two Christys, Senior and Junior, in the space of a few months this year. Let’s hope the big holes in their lives will be made less gaping by the love and the laughter and the mountain of memories.
Christy O’Connor, the original and the best, the king of Knocknacarra, Himself to all and sundry, was one of those natural golfers whose swing was all his own but had been honed by hour upon day upon week upon year of practice. It was not an accident of birth, he did not saunter up off the beach in Galway and onto the fairways of the world fully formed. He worked and worked and worked and the hands bled as he unravelled the intricacies of shotmaking and scoring.
The result was a swing and game admired far and wide by the great and the good of the game, from John Jacobs, the renowned teacher to Peter Alliss, a devoted friend and admirer, to Jack Nicklaus. There were few golfing sages who were not in awe of the O’Connor rhythm and his shot-making skills were the stuff of legend, all the better for being mostly true: drivers off muddy fairways, 4-woods from the boondocks, beautiful wedges from iffy lies, he had done it all long before Seve, another man with magic in his hands, was a twinkle in any eye.
And Christy kept doing it, well into his 60s and even beyond. On the practice ground at Royal Dublin, before a seniors’ tournament, Tommy Horton, who won more than his fair share, watched enthralled as O’Connor warmed up. “He is still a magician,” Horton said. “Every young pro should go out and watch him.”
One young pro who learned more than most, sometimes the hard way, was Christy’s nephew, Christy Junior. The celebrated uncle was a hard taskmaster, very hot on discipline but with his help and encouragement Junior and his brothers Sean and Frank learned to make their own way and have their own successes in the game.
Senior played in ten Ryder Cup matches and Junior had his moment of glory at The Belfry in 1989 when he hit that 2-iron at the last. Senior, whose praise was hard won, told Junior before the match: “You’re playing fantastic. You’re hitting the ball magnificently. Swing the golf club.” Suitably inspired, Junior did just that and afterwards Senior, impressed and proud, said: “My God, I can’t believe you made such a full follow through on that shot!”
At a more prosaic, personal level, Himself had time for the most lowly players. In 2013, when I was ladies’ captain at Whittington Heath in Staffordshire, a group of us had a stayaway in Ireland, playing at The Heath and Royal Dublin, fiefdom of Himself. On a suitably bright, breezy links day, we battled to the turn, where we were taken aback to see a lone man on the 10th tee. It was the legend himself, still hitting balls but also keen to chat and check that all was well and we were enjoying ourselves. He posed for photos, acknowledged that he should have won an Open or two and gave us advice on how to play the back nine. We did our feeble best but for me at least the day was made.
[Books used: Himself, compiled by Seamus Smith; Christy O’Connor his autobiography as told to John Redmond; John Jacobs’ Impact On Golf, by Laddie Lucas.]