Paul McGinley has led tributes to fellow Ryder Cup hero Christy O’Connor Junior, who passed away in Spain earlier on Wednesday.

The winning captain from the 2014 Ryder Cup said O'Connor was "a true Irishman, character and golfer".

"I couldn’t believe the news when I heard it this morning, especially as just before Christmas I had a wonderful night out in Dublin with Christy and some of the older Irish pros – Des Smyth, Eamonn Darcy, Philip Walton, Jimmy Heggarty and Paddy McGuirk, as well as Ray Latchford who used to caddie for Christy and Des," McGinley said.

“We had a great night - full of memories, full of stories and full of good old Irish craic and laughs, and it is the laughter and fun that I will remember most about Christy.

“When I first came out on Tour in the early 1990s, guys like Christy, Darce, Jimmy Hegarty and Smythie were senior players and made time for me and took me under their wing. I had countless dinners with those guys, what a learning education that was!

“They helped equip me for life on and off the Tour. I was very lucky to have had that time and a great relationship with Christy, which makes today’s news all the harder to take.”

O'Connor and McGinley shared the same honour of hitting crucial Ryder Cup shots for Europe - O'Connor at the Belfry in 1989 and McGinley in 2002, at the same venue.

Fellow pro Eamonn Darcy, who was a Ryder Cup team-mate of O'Connor in 1975, said he was "numb and stunned" after hearing the news.

Darcy said that although O'Connor had been feeling unwell they had planned to play some tournaments together this year.

"He was larger than life," he told RTÉ Sport. "When he came into a room everybody knew he was there. He was just a good guy. He was just a great family guy and he was a hellava golfer."

Speaking about the 1989 Ryder Cup, Darcy revealed how grateful O'Connor had been to get the opportunity to take part.

"He'd been left out a couple of times in Ryder Cups before that and it was just marvellous that he had the chance to show just how good he was under pressure. And he was. I mean, right through his life under pressure, he was just so good."

Darcy added that O'Connor loved creating golf courses and was able to produce "a masterpiece from a little piece of ground".

The Golf Union of Ireland paid tribute by posting a clip of the memorable two-iron shot online, which secured the 1989 Ryder Cup, and a note describing him as "a gentleman, an iconic figure of Irish golf and a true ambassador".

"He was a pioneer for professional Irish golfers and inspired a generation of players," the organisation said.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny passed on his condolences to the golfer’s family, saying: “Very sad to hear of the passing of Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jnr. Deepest sympathies to his wife Ann, daughter Ann and son Nigel.”

"He was always very proud of his Galway connections and gave support to so many admirable and humanitarian projects"

President Michael D Higgins described him as "an iconic figure"  who possessed warmth and generosity, adding: "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.

"His outstanding and courageous win in the singles in the 1989 Ryder Cup will be recalled for decades to come.

"He was always very proud of his Galway connections and gave support to so many admirable and humanitarian projects.

"He will be missed by not only his sporting colleagues, but also by his community, and in particular by his friends. We will miss his warm personality, his generosity and his great resilience of spirit.

"To his wife Anne, daughter Ann and son Nigel, and to his wider family and many friends, Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy." 

The golfing community heaped praise on the 1989 Belfry hero, with Shane Lowry saying: “Very sad news today about Christy O'Connor Jnr. An absolute legend of Irish golf. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.”

While former US Open winner and Ryder Cup star Justin Rose said: “Very sad news this morning... #RIPChristy #TwoIron #Belfry #RyderCup #TrueGent”

O'Connor Jnr was a supporter of Special Olympics and the Irish branch of the organisation described him as one of Ireland's greatest ever talents and a dedicated patron.

The Professional Golfers' Association said: "Sad news that Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jnr has passed away."

Local politician in Galway, Brian Walsh, said: "A great talent who brought much enjoyment to many and worked quietly to benefit Galway causes."

Junior minister for sport Michael Ring, described O'Connor as one of the country's finest golfer and sportsmen.

"He contributed so much to sport in Ireland and was a role model for many Irish golfers," he said.

"Christy was a very talented golfer and everyone involved in Irish sport will be saddened at the news of his passing today.

"I knew Christy personally and he was a model sportsman and a thorough gentleman. He will be greatly missed."