Christy O’Connor, Irish Great, Dies at 91
I must confess up front that Ireland is one of my favorite locations and cultures in the world. Since my first visit there in 1983, and through several subsequent ones, I have developed the assumption that if it’s Irish, it’s better, an accolade I give only to a few other places in the world., I have played golf there, which is a different experience from the Pacific Northwest I grew up in, and follow many Irish pros with some regularity. This week, we lost a great one, Christy O’Connor, at the age of 91.
When one speaks of the golfing O’Connor family, one must distinguish between Christy, Sr., and Christy, Jr., the older man’s nephew. The younger O’Connor was also a fine player with a stellar career, and passed away at the age of 67 not long ago. Christy, Sr. did not ever expect to be playing on the big stage for large money, but he kept practicing, and somehow it all came to pass. O’Connor made the most of it, with 24 European Tour wins, and 10 consecutive Ryder Cup appearances between 1955 and 1973. He won the World Cup for Ireland in 1968 playing with Harry Bradshaw, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.
We didn’t see O’Connor very often here in the west. He didn’t play the PGA schedule, and only appeared at one of the four majors, the British Open. In that event, he placed third in one year, and tied for second in another. He did win the British Masters in both 1956 and 1959 before helping Ireland win the Canada Cup in Mexico City. He was an explosive player in terms of sudden rallies and birdie binges. Early on, he won the Carroll’s International at Royal Dublin by going eagle-birdie-eagle at the end of the fourth round. With advancing age, he assaulted the senior tour with much success, winning the Seniors Championship six times. He also won the World Seniors Championship in 1976 and 1977. O’Connor won the European money title twice. Even though he didn’t hang out in the west, he was a presence everywhere.
The tributes have come pouring in for what many describe as an “incredible man” with a larger than life personality. I have met those personalities in Ireland, and we mustn’t assume the negative version of such phenomena. Everything competitive in Ireland carries with it an enormous spirit. This holds true from the small wagers in which every player brings one Euro, and the winner of the group takes them all, to full galleries at prestigious tournaments. Politics is meaningless in such a discussion. Both north and south display the Irish elan at all times.
The obligatory humor for an Irish competitor has just enough tinge of self-deprecation in it to present a decorum of humility. And yet, the great ones don’t fail to let you know the truth of it. Ireland in general starts every international and individual relationship with a demonstrable reservoir of good will, but it’s up to the guest to keep it. Christy O’Cnnor was the biggest on-course presence of them all, with a flair for good conversation, story-telling and commentary on the state of things. Hence, the enduring nickname by which he went for decades – “Himself.”
I miss the Irish courses, such as Malehyde to the north of Dublin, where rabbit-like rodents the size of small kangaroos peacefully stroll the fairways. I miss the cordiality before, during and after a round, including the Guinness, which is a superior beverage to the version we import west of the Atlantic. And, more than any of it, I miss the Irish golfers themselves, none more than Christy o’Connor.