The pro who stayed at home

 Peter O'Connor RIP

The late Peter O'Connor.

The late Peter O'Connor.

A well known Galway golfer, Peter O’Connor, otherwise known in the golfing world as “Snowball”, recently passed away at the age of 89.

A native of Galway, he was born into a golf loving family - his father Martin was a small farmer neighbouring Galway Golf Club on Knocknacarra Road, one of just three houses in Knocknacarra at the time, and his mother delivered milk to the golf club on a daily basis.

Peter was the second eldest in a family of 10, six boys and four girls. His eldest brother, Paddy served his time as club PRO in Portlaoise Golf club, younger brother Tom was a +2 handicapper in his day and still plays off single figures (7 ) today at 84 years of age, and Martin Joe is also a gifted golfer.

At eight years Peter started caddying in Galway Golf Club and sometimes would carry two bags of clubs on his shoulders as did his brothers. It was a way of life back then and in those early years spending his time on the golf course was where his love of the game began.

Before emigrating to England at 18, he had established himself as a scratch player, but, having taken up employment in a printing factory, he decided to quit the game for a few years until he went to work for the Guinness Brewery at Park Royal in London.  There he resumed his interest in golf, and joined the Middlesex Golf Club where he quickly established himself as the club's leading player, playing at number one on the county team, during which time he had the proud record of 17 matches undefeated.

He was the South of England’s number one golfer for four consecutive years and Public Golf Course Champion for seven years on the trot. He crowned some fine performances during that time, winning the South of England Amateur Open Championship in both 1954 and 1955. His most impressive round of golf was when he won the Captain’s Prize at Middlesex Golf Club on a windy day against a par 72, scored 10 birdies for a gross 62 while playing off +3 handicap. He set a new course record which remains to this day. This was one of 25 course records which Peter held in his long career.  

After 10 years in England “Snowball” returned home and became assistant professional to Bob Wallace at Galway Golf Club. Bob had a big reputation and his tuition, guidance and encouragement were of tremendous benefit to Peter. 

After his term in Galway he travelled around the country providing his services as a teacher, and also competing in various championships and pro-ams. Among the clubs he spent time in were Loughrea Golf Club, Strabane Golf Club and then Rosapenna, Co Donegal, where he turned in some excellent performances with numerous victories in pro-ams and alliance meetings, setting course records of 63 in Rosapenna and 65s in both Carlow and The Island, while equalling course records in Portrush and Newcastle. He also enjoyed playing in all four rounds of the British Open on two occasions, both at St Andrews, and played with the great Bobby Locke.

Perhaps one of the finest moments of his career and a major shock in the golfing world at the time was in the Ulster Professional Golf Championship at Shandon Park when he beat Fred Daly (Ryder Cup Star and Open Champion ) on the 18th green in the second round in a hard-fought encounter. 

Following Rosapenna, Peter was the envy of many of his fellow pros when he was appointed head professional at the newly-rebuilt Dromoland Castle Course, that year he finished fourth in the Irish professional Dunlop Championship.

Peter also spent time at Limerick and Edmondstown golf clubs before settling down in Spawell Golf Range.

Despite lots of encouragement by his fellow professionals to join the lucrative ranks on tour, Peter was known as “the pro who stayed at home”. He loved to teach, and his passion for teaching spanned all levels, beginners, amateurs and professionals.

He was highly respected as a teacher and went on to coach John O’Leary from a 12 handicap to a +2 handicap, encouraging him to turn pro and coaching him to victory in the Carroll’s Irish Open. 

Galway and the game of golf has lost a great ambassador and may the one and only “Snowball” rest in peace. 

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