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Christy O'Connor Junior passes away

Updated: Wednesday, 06 Jan 2016 22:19 | Comments

Christy O’Connor Junior has passed away suddenly at the age of 67.

The Irish golfer was a member of the winning Ryder Cup team in 1989 at the Belfry, where his two-iron approach on the 18th hole helped secured the trophy for Europe.

O’Connor was a four-time winner on the European Tour, which included victory in the 1975 Carroll's Irish Open, and was the nephew of another Irish golfing legend, Christy O’Connor Senior.

Born in Galway, O'Connor turned professional in 1967 and went on to represent Europe twice in the Ryder Cup, firstly in 1975, before his memorable victory in 1989.

O'Connor played in more than 20 majors throughout his long career, finishing in a tie for third at the 1985 Open Championship, having led the tournament early on with an opening round six-under at Royal St George's. O'Connor's only Masters appearance came in 1977.

Back-to back Seniors British Open titles were secured in 1999 and 2000, while O'Connor also represented Ireland in several World Cups and Dunhill Cups.

O'Connor died while on holiday in Tenerife. 

Speaking in 2010 about his famous victory over Couples, O'Connor Jnr revealed European captain Tony Jacklin had been one of the few people to have faith in one of his three wild card selections.

"It was the greatest and most emotional moment of my professional life," O'Connor Jnr recalled. "I'd felt terrible at breakfast that morning because of an article writing me off in one of the Sunday newspapers.

"I felt the pressure it put on me was too much. Tony Jacklin, the captain, was brilliant on the final hole. He said on the 18th tee that if I put the pressure on, Fred wouldn't be able to take it.

"Even though I was miles behind him after the tee shots, Jacko didn't lose faith. 'Put it on the green, I've a feeling that something will happen,' he said.

"Well everyone knows that I played the shot of my life, a two iron from 235 yards that finished four foot from the hole. I guess you could say I did put it on the green and something did happen. I remember looking up to the sky with my arms outstretched and tears ran down my face.

"It was unforgettable."

President Michael D Higgins said: "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."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has paid tribute to O'Connor, who he described as "a wonderful sportsman" and an Irish icon.

"He loved life and he loved the adventure of living and he was always a person who brought a smile to the eyes of the Irish people."

Former mayor of Galway John Mulholland, a close friend of the golfer, was devastated by the news. 

Mulholland told RTÉ Radio: "He was a great, great man. He would never insult anybody or speak ill of anybody. He was a gem.

"We were friends for a long time back and we travelled a lot together. We shared great moments together. I just can't believe that he is gone. He was one of these gregarious people - it was just a delight to meet him any time and anywhere you brought him or he brought you he was the star attraction. He was one of the all-time characters and I'm going to miss him an awful lot."

RTÉ golf correspondent Greg Allen paid tribute to O'Connor's achievements and said his outlook on life was always positive.

Allen told RTÉ Radio: "He won on Tour as early as 1972. Everybody who as at Woodbrook in 1975 – the first revival of the Irish Open after many years of it not being on the roster – will remember it because we had an Irish winner in Christy O’Connor Junior.

"The joie de vivre of life that Christy always expressed, and there was never a dull moment for Christy; everything had a sunny side up to it.

"He had many reversals in his career and yet he kept going. There was 14 years between his two Ryder Cup appearances in 1975 and famously in 1989. In 1989, I think it was the year that he finally emerged as the golfer who bore the name Christy O’Connor but bore it by his own right.

"He followed in the footsteps in name and in golf of his Uncle Christy Senior. His four victories on the Tour are an illustration [of his ability] but not only that, these victories were 27 years apart. Christy had serious longevity in his career and his passing today is an incredible shock."

O'Connor also had an outstanding reputation as a course designer and was a key figure in improving many courses in Ireland and overseas. 

"Christy designed or had a hand in golf courses in Ireland – 18 in Ireland I think was the number he either designed or had a hand in remodelling.

"I’m thinking of really really fine courses, like Concra Wood in Monaghan, Mount Wolseley where he had a house for many years in Carlow, and Headfort New which I think possibly is his best design effort.

"Over in Portugal he has a course in the Oceanico development near Vilamoura. I think overall it’s 25 courses worldwide he’s had a hand in designing or remodelled. Christy never stopped working and yet everything he did was excellent.

"His course design work is highly regarded worldwide and he had this terrific career as a senior golfer, winning those two Senior Open Championships. I always felt Christy would never, ever fade away; he wasn't that sort of character.

"This is such a shock that he should go so suddenly. I think he had more to offer in course design and certainly as a player his record stands for itself."

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