Christy Jnr, forever tied to the Ryder Cup

Conor McKenna (Head Professional Concra Wood GC), Christy O’Connor Jnr and (right) Andy Whelan Concra Wood GC

Conor McKenna (Head Professional Concra Wood GC), Christy O’Connor Jnr and (right) Andy Whelan Concra Wood GC

Christy O’Connor Jnr – who passed away today (Wednesday) – was never anything less than a cracking good interview.
He knew how to work a crowd did Christy, tell a yarn, make everyone in the room feel at ease.
For a long time, before our recent major triumphs, Christy, as a result of one shot, was probably the most famous face in Irish golf.
It’s grossly unfair to boil a golfer’s career down to one strike of a ball but that two-iron approach to the 18th in the 1989 Ryder Cup defined Christy’s nearly 50 years as a professional.
The Irish Open win, the two Senior Open successes all paled into insignificance beside his victory over Fred Couples.
He accepted the ambassadorial role that followed his Belfry heroics. In fact, he wisely embraced it because of the opportunities it offered especially in terms of his burgeoning course design business.
Still, it niggled at him that when people looked at his golfing career, they focused purely on that one shot and the actual whereabouts of the two-iron he used.
A long time before his untimely passing, Christy had given up counting the number of two-irons in circulation purporting to be the one he used at the Belfry.

I was fortunate enough to meet with Christy on a number of occasions to talk about golf, particularly during the construction of one of his design projects, Concra Wood in Castleblayney Co Monaghan.
He also spoke to me at length about that famous day at the Belfry in 1989 during research for a book I was writing about Ireland’s impact on the biennial event.
That was back in 2004/2005 and it was clear the Ryder Cup meant an awful lot to him and that it had done so long before he etched his own name into the folklore of the event.
Back then, his biggest bug bear was that an Irishman had yet to be offered the captaincy – thankfully that oversight has been rectified in recent years.

Below are a couple of passages from the book published in 2006:

On that shot
Consequently, you might well expect Christy to describe it as the ‘best shot he ever hit’ but you’d be wrong.
In a career spanning three decades, O’Connor has hit more than one ‘great’ shot.
“I think my best effort came the following year in the Dunhill World Match-play at St Andrews,” he said.
“Funnily enough it was against Fred Couples. We were playing the 17th and I hit a four iron over the road-hole bunker and stopped it four feet from the hole.
“He gave me the putt and then tied a handkerchief onto the end of his club and waved in the air (in mock surrender). He told me he had never seen the equal of it.”

On the Ryder Cup
Christy claims that there was never any ‘outside’ pressure to emulate his uncle and play in the event.20160106_152842
“I just really wanted to play in it,” he said.
“There was never any pressure from Senior. Generally he would have loved me to make it and I certainly wanted to make it.”
What is certain is that every Ryder Cup year over a 20 year period, Christy O’Connor jnr planned to make the team and set out his schedule accordingly.
His uncle made his last Ryder Cup appearance at Muirfield in 1973 and two years later, playing some of the best golf of his career, Christy continued the O’Connor tradition by booking his place on the team for the matches in Laurel Valley, Pennsylvania.
“It meant an awful lot for me to step in and for the O’Connor family not to miss out a year,” he said.

On selection
Between ’75 and ’89, Christy O’Connor was the perennial Ryder Cup bridesmaid, missing out by the narrowest of margins.
“I feel that I should have made five teams,” said Christy.
“Now that would have been incredible, to follow Senior by playing in five events.
“In ’77 I finished in 13th place on the order or merit and captain Brian Huggett put me on stand-by. I don’t think Tony Jacklin should have been playing that year, he wasn’t playing well.
“I missed out twice more by a few pounds, in ’85 and ’87.
“It was a horrendous feeling, particularly in ’85. I was in 11th position and I had played so well all year.
“I fell out with the captain Tony Jacklin over selection in ’85. I felt that I was badly done by.
“I remember going home from the final qualifying event saying that I had nothing to worry about, that I had made the team, so I think he made a big mistake by not including me that year.”

 

 

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