Christy O’Connor, known affectionately in the golf world as “Himself” because of his great joie de vivre with which he embraced life – is unquestionably the greatest golfer to come out of Ireland since the end of World War II. No less an authority than Peter Alliss, the doyen of European golf, has lauded his friend and long-time Ryder Cup partner in stating, “Himself was a genius…a legend of Irish golf and golf in general.”
O’Connor’s legerdemain with his clubs is legendary in the annals of golf, especially in his native Ireland.
His impromptu performance on Bundoran’s par-3, 235-yard 13th hole is worth retelling. O’Connor, playing with some Bundoran members, landed a shot onto the green when another of his group did the same.
The man asked O’Connor what he played and he replied “4-iron.”
“When I eventually turned to golf to try and make a decent living, I knew I was a fair old player. But I never imagined that my life would be all about big tournaments, traveling the world and winning money. There were not enough hours in the day for me to practice my golf. But it was all worthwhile.”
“I played a 5,” the proud golfer said, before being told by a third member of that four-ball O’Connor could hit anything in the bag and find the green. O’Connor obliged his partner and proceeded to hit nearly every club in his bag – including putter – landing most of them on the green.
The moral of the story is it is easy to understand why O’Connor has been called the world’s best foul weather player: He has ultimate control over all his clubs in just about any condition Mother Nature can throw at him. You might even say he was Hoganesque in his play in foul weather.
O’Connor’s performance on the links of not only his beloved Ireland, but on the courses of the British Isles, backs up Alliss’ assessment.
Born in 1924, his superlative career spanned four decades, as he won 24 European Tour tournaments including two British Masters, and two Vardon Trophies for leading the Tour’s Order of Merit. And in the 1960s he won at least one tournament a year on the European Tour, no mean feat.
He played in an Irish record 15 Canada Cups, now called the World Cup, teaming with Harry Bradshaw to win in Mexico City in 1958.
Of the four major championships, he only played in The Open Championship. He had 10 top-10 finishes in 26 tries, including a tie for second in 1965 at Royal Birkdale.
And, uniquely for a touring professional, O’Connor has had a 50-year association with The Royal Dublin Golf Club.
Unquestionably he was one of Europe’s finest ever Ryder Cup players, playing on 10 consecutive Ryder Cup Teams from 1955 through 1973, setting the bar for consistent performance over the better part of three decades. He played a key part in helping to secure the Cup in the 1957 Ryder Cup at Lindrick Golf Club in Yorkshire, England. With a furious second day rally, the British team came back to win the Cup for the first time in 24 years, as O’Connor trounced Dow Finsterwald 7-and-6 in the singles matches.
But it was at the Ryder Cup in 1973, in his final appearance, that the competitive fire in O’Connor came through. On the morning of the final day, O’Connor lost to J.C. Snead one-down on 18 and asked the captain of the Great Britain/Ireland team, Bernard Hunt, to sit him in the afternoon matches. But Captain Hunt decided that he needed O’Connor to play against Tom Weiskopf, the winner of The Open Championship and six other tournaments earlier that year and perhaps the most dangerous player on a very strong American team.
In a Match that went to the final hole, O’Connor, playing in his record 10th Ryder Cup and just a few months shy of his 49th birthday, held the strongest American player to a tie, earning 1/2 point for his team with a spectacular half on the final hole. It was a fitting end to a fantastic Ryder Cup career.
So let’s raise a toast to “Himself ” for his wonderful golf and the spirit he brought to the game.