Saturday 1 October 2016

Remembering Christy O'Connor Junior: 'His heart was Par 5 in dimension'

Published 06/01/2016 | 14:01

Christy O'Connor Junior has sadly passed away
Christy O'Connor Junior has sadly passed away
An abiding memory of Christy O'Connor Junior was the Ryder Cup in 1989

HE was the crown prince of Irish golf’s blueblood house, a gentle, beloved, benevolent, larger-than-life colossus.

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A cartographer detailed to map Christy O’Connor Junior’s DNA would surely sketch a sequence of fairways, bunkers and greens:  Golf, you see, was in his blood, it was his very genetic essence, the vital fluid that sustained him.

But it was his character that defined and elevated him, brightened so many lives, made him a floodplain on which a monsoon of the nation’s affection ceaselessly rained.

Beneath that trademark flat-cap, lurked a big, spongy, soft Teddy Bear; his heart was Par 5 in dimension; goodness gently lapped from him, a stream of kindness that meandered as quietly as Rae’s Creek or the Swilken Burn. 

The news – dismal, concussive, sudden, shocking and, for his family and friends, utterly heart-rending  – of his passing feels, to borrow the quixotic title of Lawrence Donegan’s celebrated tome, like a four-iron in the soul.

Eamonn Darcy, who shared a dinner table with Christy just days ago, could barely speak today (Wednesday) as he described the death, at 67, of his great friend as “the saddest day in Irish golf that I can remember".

Few will be inclined to raise a dissenting voice.

Because, as with any national treasure, any individual whose life touches so many – be it Luke Kelly, Paidi O’Shea, Kevin Heffernan or Christy Junior – their death leaves a void on the landscape.  It is hardly necessary to have known Junior personally, or to have even met him, to feel the aftershocks of his passing.

For so many, his death will slam into their emotional core with the velocity of the most magical thrust of Christy’s tremendous, high-octane, swashbuckling career:  That enchanted Ryder Cup hour when he wielded a two-iron as a sorcerer’s wand, launching the immortal shot that drove a stake through the heart of Fred Couples and America at The Belfry 27 years ago.

As an iconic moment of the 1980s, a postcard from the gods announcing Ireland was emerging from the grim straightjacket in which it had so long being corseted, it belonged alongside Ray Houghton’s Stuttgart flourish a year earlier, Barry McGuigan’s laying of Eusebio Pedroza onto the Loftus Road canvas, Stephen Roche, ashen-faced but unbowed, atop La Plagne, Dennis Taylor breaking Steve Davis in the early hours of a Sheffield morning.

It was a moment of liberation, a transfusion of joy and confidence that elevated this son of Galway, carved his likeness onto our sporting Mount Rushmore.

The sheer joy that drenched Christy’s features on that English Midlands lawn and transferred itself, as if by osmosis, to the tens of thousands gathered about that 18th green, was a gift to the nation, a debt we could never repay.

This, remember, was long before Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy recalibrated the universe so that Ireland was the epicentre of Major winning achievement; this was Junior, feeding a nation accustomed to scraping by on scraps, a great banquet of glory.

The courage O’Connor summoned in the crosshairs of the most suffocating pressure, the manner in which he reached out and embraced history, his subsequent relief and gratitude, the arms-outstretched, head-tilted giving of thanks to the heavens, together they form an eternal snapshot, a reminder of how great sport can transport us to the Penthouse Suite of life.

His reaction as much as his brilliance was what touched so many.

For if Junior was a patrician, scion of golf’s first family, nephew of Himself, the transcendent Christy Senior, he was also one of us.

He had the shape and stories of a man who enjoyed a glass, who believed life was for living.  He squeezed every last blob from his visit to the planet. His company was a joy.

Christy was, primarily, overwhelmingly, a family-man.  He knew the torment no father should, the terrible sting of having to bury a son; somehow though crushed by the devastating tragedy of his youngest son Darren’s 1998 death in a road accident, he never surrendered to bitterness or self-pity.

The years went on and he continued to greet the world with a smile as bright as a perfect sunrise.

He would win the Senior British Open twice, a Himalayan achievement;  he would become one of golf’s foremost designers:  His portfolio was as bulging as it was varied.  He dressed Ireland in a necklace of gems:  Headfort New, Concra Wood, Mount Wolseley and in, his beloved home place, Galway Bay.

And his charity work was unceasing.

As one friend said yesterday:  “He lived life to the full.  He had time for everybody and none for himself, that was the problem.”

But it wasn’t a problem at all.  It was who he was, for his chromosomes were those of a benevolent colossus, his DNA that of a golfer, a gentleman, a giant.

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