Paul McGinley: Christy was a great competitor and a fun person to be around
The winning Ryder Cup captain of 2014 awoke yesterday to the shocking and sad news that Christy O'Connor Junior had passed away, writes Liam Kelly.
Paul McGinley is currently on holiday in Florida, and before Christmas, had spent a pleasant evening in Dublin with fellow professionals, including Christy Junior, Eamonn Darcy, and Des Smyth.
McGinley spoke of his reaction to the news and his memories of Junior.
"I woke up this morning, about 6.30am, half eleven Irish time, and saw that Christy had died. It's very shocking and very sad. I can't remember the first time I met him personally, but I remember going to watch him play.
"My dad took me to see him winning the Irish Open in '75 at Woodbrook. I was about eight years old then. That's the first time I would have seen him.
"Then growing up, and playing amateur golf in Ireland, I would have seen Christy at various pro-ams, the Links Society outings, things like that.
"When I was at the top of the amateur game I would have met him a fair bit. Then when I turned pro, we were very much part of the Irish group.
"Christy and the older Irish professionals such as Des Smyth and Eamonn Darcy pretty much took me and Darren (Clarke) under their wing.
"We were the first two to turn pro for a while. There was quite a gap between Philip Walton turning pro and getting on Tour and the arrival of Darren and me. My first year on Tour was '92. Christy, Darce, Des, Jimmy Heggarty, and a few more used to go for dinner certainly three nights a week, maybe more.
"My memories of those days are very happy. I remember the craic, I remember the laughs, I remember the stories.
"We had practice rounds together, and it was all very much part of being among the Irish set on Tour," said McGinley.
By 1992, when McGinley set out on his professional career as a Tour player, the established Irish players not only knew how to enjoy themselves, but they had shown the newbies that players from this island could, and would, win tournaments.
The adjustment from the amateur game with all the nuances and vagaries of travelling to different countries, dealing with the nitty-gritty off-course details, and varying standards of golf courses all took time.
For McGinley and Clarke, that transition was eased by Junior and Co.
"There was huge camaraderie among the Irish. We were the young guys on Tour and it was very much them educating us.
"It was an incredible education we learned from them all, not just about golf, but about life and travel, and all that kind of stuff.
"I was very fond of Christy and Darce, and all those guys. We just met before Christmas for a night out in Dublin. It was great to see them all again.
"They were all very good to us when we were young pros, and they looked after us.
"The fact is they were legends of the European Tour. Everybody knew them, they all had big golfing CVs with Ryder Cups and tournament wins.
"Darce and Junior were particularly very close. You never saw one without the other. This is going to hit Darce very hard. In fact, I know it has hit him very hard. They practised together, and they were always partners. They'd never play against each other in practice rounds.
"In a fourball they always had to be partners and the craic was great," said McGinley.
From one professional to another, McGinley knew and appreciated the qualities that made Junior a tournament winner throughout the latter's long career.
"Christy wasn't the longest hitter but he was brilliant with the iron play.
"His putting is what held him back from winning more tournaments, but he had great control with the irons, and was a great player in the wind.
"He was a great competitor, and just a fun person to be around.
"You'd never come away from a conversation with Junior without having a smile or a laugh, or hearing a story you'd want to remember," said McGinley.
The laughs and smiles are silenced now, and the Dubliner extended his sympathy to Junior's wife, Ann, and all the family and extended family, which, of course, includes Christy O'Connor Senior who celebrated his 91st birthday on December 21.
"This will hit Senior hard too. He was very fond of Junior, and Junior of him. It's just very hard to believe that Junior is gone."