Tony Jacklin leads the tributes for Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jnr
Published 06/01/2016 | 12:01
Tributes have flooded in for former Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jnr, who has been described as an "absolute legend of Irish golf" following his death at the age of 67.
The Galway native won four times on the European Tour and also picked up two Senior British Open titles - but was best remembered for helping Europe retain the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1989.
O'Connor was a surprise wild card selection by captain Tony Jacklin and a heavy underdog in his singles contest against Fred Couples, who went on to become world number one and win the Masters in 1992.
However, with the match all square on the 18th hole, O'Connor Jnr fired a superb two-iron approach to within four feet of the flag and his subsequent win helped ensure the biennial contest finished 14-14, with holders Europe therefore retaining the trophy.
Jacklin, who had controversially left O'Connor Jnr out of the 1985 Ryder Cup team, said: " It is very sad news.
"Looking back, it was very hard not to pick Christy for the 1985 Ryder Cup team but Jose Rivero had won on The Belfry that year so it was obviously a decision based purely on golf. But we were delighted to have him on the team in 1989 and I remember he was very excited when I told him.
"Obviously I followed him very closely down the last two holes and I caught him before he teed off at the 18th. I had noticed on the previous hole that Fred's hands were not operating properly - he had missed a short putt - so I knew Christy had him.
"Christy hit a wonderful tee shot and then Fred pulled his, but because he was so long he cleared the water, leaving himself with a nine iron, while Christy had a two iron. I said to Christy, 'Come on, one more good swing for Ireland' and of course he hit the shot of his lifetime. We couldn't have retained it without him, no doubt.
"He had a great effect on the team room too. We had a great team unity and he was a big part of that."
In his latter years O'Connor Jnr - the nephew of another hero of Irish golf, Christy O'Connor Snr - was heavily involved in designing golf courses. It is understood he was on holiday in Tenerife when he died and is survived by his wife Ann, son Nigel and daughter Ann.
The golfer's other son, Darren, died in a road accident in 1998 aged 17.
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said: " This is a terribly sad day for Christy's family, obviously, but also for all of Ireland and lovers of golf worldwide.
"I couldn't believe the news when I heard it this morning, especially as just before Christmas I had a wonderful night out in Dublin with Christy and some of the older Irish pros - Des Smyth, Eamonn Darcy, Philip Walton, Jimmy Heggarty and Paddy McGuirk, as well as Ray Latchford who used to caddie for Christy and Des.
"We had a great night, full of memories, full of stories and full of good old Irish craic and laughs, and it is the laughter and fun that I will remember most about Christy."
World number 21 Shane Lowry, whose home course of Esker Hills was designed by O'Connor Jnr, wrote on Twitter: "Very sad news today about Christy O'Connor Jnr. An absolute legend of Irish golf. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones."
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: ''I knew Christy personally and he loved and lived life to the full. His premature passing will be a source of great sadness to many Irish people and all golfing fans in Ireland and across Europe.''
Irish President Michael D Higgins added: ''As a sportsman, and as an iconic figure in golf, Christy represented his country and its people on the international stage with distinction, dignity and great humour.
''He was always very proud of his Galway connections and gave support to so many admirable and humanitarian projects.
"He will be missed by not only his sporting colleagues, but also by his community, and in particular by his friends. We will miss his warm personality, his generosity and his great resilience of spirit.''