Friday 20 January 2017

Remarkable O'Connor inspired generations of Irish golf stars

Published 16/05/2016 | 02:30

Christy (pictured) achieved huge success and lasting fame in tournament golf, but he never managed to win the Major championship which his many fans felt was deserved and attainable, such was his ability.Photo: ABC
Christy (pictured) achieved huge success and lasting fame in tournament golf, but he never managed to win the Major championship which his many fans felt was deserved and attainable, such was his ability.Photo: ABC

Christy O'Connor Senior, a legend of Irish and European golf, enjoyed a full life which was rich in friendships, respect from his peers, and endowed with an impressive record of success on the international golf circuit.

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Acknowledged as a master of his craft by such luminaries as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Peter Alliss, 'Senior' or 'Himself' as he was widely known, was a hero to the modern generation of Irish Tour stars.

His death, at the age of 91, is the second huge loss suffered by the extended O'Connor clan within a few months.

Christy's nephew, Christy Junior, died suddenly in Tenerife on January 6, aged 67.

The passing of Christy Senior marks the end of a remarkable life.

His legacy of achievement in the 1950s, '60s and into the '70s inspired later generations of Irish golfers to embark on careers as Tour professionals.

Our record of success for such a small country is immense, and Christy Senior, along with the late Fred Daly and Harry Bradshaw, led the way.

A 10-time Ryder Cup player, and multiple winner of titles, Christy played in the era when a professional's duties to his club were deemed more important than competing in tournaments.

In his era, tournaments were largely confined to Britain and Ireland, and prize funds, while decent for their time compared with the average industrial wage, were not enough for golfers to give up the day job at the club.

However, Christy created a huge sensation in 1955 when he won the Swallow-Penfold tournament at Southport and Ainsdale, and became the first golfer from these islands to win a first prize cheque of £1,000.

In 1970 he again broke the mould, taking home the first five-figure cheque on this side of the Atlantic - £25,000 - for topping the leaderboard in the John Player Classic.

Internationally, top players such as Jack Nicklaus, Roberto De Vicenzo, Gary Player, Peter Alliss and Seve Ballesteros accorded Senior huge respect for the quality of his play, his beautifully-honed swing and his competitive ability.

Player's view of Senior was: "He remains, with Sam Snead, the most naturally gifted golfer I have ever seen."

Senior's swing was impressive, but it was not "instinctive" and did not come naturally in the sense of his waking up one day and finding he had a great golfing method.

Instead, O'Connor honed his swing the hard way with hours and hours of practice hitting shots off the sand on the beach at Bundoran where he was appointed club pro in 1951, and he always continued to work at it.

Christy achieved huge success and lasting fame in tournament golf, but he never managed to win the Major championship which his many fans felt was deserved and attainable, such was his ability.

The Open Championship was the big one, and Christy played in it 26 times. His best finishes were joint second to Peter Thomson of Australia in 1965, and joint third - one shot adrift - to Thomson in 1958.

Visitors to The Royal Dublin, the club he served from 1959, were charmed to meet him and sometimes had the privilege of playing golf with him.

He remained competitive as Jack Nicklaus discovered when they played an exhibition to mark the opening of Mount Juliet in 1991.

Senior was 67 at the time, Nicklaus 51, but after 18 holes, Senior had shot 72 to Jack's 74.

In 2009, Christy was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Christy Senior is survived by his wife Mary, daughters Marguerite, Therese and Joan, and his sons, the twins, Peter and Christopher.

He was pre-deceased by another daughter, the late Anne-Marie.

 

Christy O'Connor Snr

Born: Galway, December 21, 1924
Turned pro: 1946

Clubs: Galway (assistant), Tuam, Bundoran, Killarney, Royal Dublin.

 

TOURNAMENT VICTORIES

Ulster Championship: 1953

Penfold Tournament: '55

British Masters: '56, '59

PGA Matchplay: '57

Daks Tournament: '59

Carrolls International: '64, '66, '67, '72

Martini International: '63, '64

Gallaher Ulster Open: '66, '68, '69

John Player Classic: '70

World Seniors PGA: '76, '77

British Seniors PGA: '76, '77, '79, '81, '82, '83

Irish PGA Championship: '58, '60, '61, '62, '63, '65, '66, '71, '75, '77

 

MAJOR bests

Open Championship: tied-2nd '65; tied-3rd '58 and '61

 

Ryder Cup

10 appearances for GB & Ireland, 1958-73

Irish Independent

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