If you are a person who wants to drink deep from life, to experience everything to its fullest, including the good and bad that might come your way, it was a week to regret not being Irish. Christy O’Connor Sr., one of the greatest golfers and sportsmen ever to hail from a country already sporting many greats, died Saturday at the age of 91. O’Connor was not one of those names you see picking up the paper, murmur a quick “Ah, too bad,” then go on with what you were doing. If you’re Irish, this is a great name that one should stop for. It’s a loss that an Irish sports buff should feel through, taking a little time and reflection along the way.
If you’re not Irish, but truly love golf, have no fear. You are qualified to participate in the grief that O’Connor’s countryman must feel. The fact is that in an international game with many special individuals, O’Connor was especially memorable, a genius on and around the green, and possessing a view of life that wished all well, and exhorted all to feel the goodness of it all, “going with the birds – the ones that fly, that is.”
O’Connor was described by commentator Peter Alyss as Ireland’s greatest sportsman – ever, in Alyss’ opinion. Asked what his choice would be for the two greatest Irishmen, he immediately eliminated politicians and similar public figures and went right for John McCormack, incredible lyric tenor from the early century, and Christy O’Conner.
I watched some youtube examples of O’Connor, and of Christy Jr., who recently died at the age of 67, giving Ireland and the golf world two heavy losses in a short period of time. Having spent a considerable amount of time in Ireland, I recognized the lilt in the voice right away. I watched him giving group instruction on a course in Limerick, and he needn’t have been so wonderful – he had me at Limerick. But, wonderful he was. He gave a golf lesson like one would tell a captivating story. It’s the kind of lesson that’s more bound to stick. He made golf sound like a part of life, and his secret may have been that it is.
Living proof that you’re never really out of it so long as your short game is sound, O’Connor kept his hands, wrists, and forearms all his golfing life. They kept him in contention well into his 50s, and the farmer’s son from a small hamlet in Galway, according to Ireland’s Prime Minister, had “one of the best pairs of wrists in the game.” The prime minister wasn’t the only one who thought so. When a man is referred to as “Himself” in Ireland, that man’s done something special.
O’Connor won the 1958 World Cup, then called the Canada Cup, won 24 European titles, and made ten top 10 finishes in the British Open. I remember seeing his name growing up, and wondering, “Who is this guy? He’s always there, without exception.” He is thought of as a founding father for the Irish game, and one of its most revered figures.
Our major tours continue to press forward with new names and faces, new swings, new talents, and new personalities. The great game will always have something and someone to celebrate, with a weekly offering of top-level tournaments with exceptional players from the teens on doing amazing things. I hope, though, that we’ll never forgot the richness of what brought us here – people like Christy O’Connor…his literal golf game, his personal effect on the game’s environment, and his legacy for the future of his country’s present-day stars. That being a given, it is good that this week, we should all be Irish, no matter where we really come from.