Tributes have been flowing in for legendary Galway golfer Christy O’Connor Jnr who died unexpectedly while on holiday in the Canaries this week.
The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, and An Taoiseach Enda Kenny have led the tributes to the 67-years-old Galway golfer, who became a household name for his exploits at the 1989 Ryder Cup.
Christy Jr claimed the British Open twice, and in a famous Ryder Cup moment, hit a two iron to the 18th at The Belfry, beating Fred Couples and leading Europe to a memorable Ryder Cup victory.
However Christy’s golfing prowess was matched by his personality and humour - a man who lived life to the full and used his love of golf to benefit numerous charities.
Michael D Higgins said as a sportsman, and as an iconic figure in golf, Christy had represented his country and its people on the international stage with “distinction, dignity and great humour”.
“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.”
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny said his Ryder Cup feat would be forever etched in Irish sporting history.
“I knew Christy and he loved and lived life to the full. His premature passing will be a source of great sadness to many Irish people and all golfing fans in Ireland and across Europe. He was a multiple winner on the European, Senior and Champions Tours and he shot a then record first round of 64 during the British Open in 1985.
“There’s no doubt however that his crowning glory was that famous Ryder Cup moment and a raft of other Irish golfers then followed in his footsteps to Ryder Cup greatness. Like his uncle, he was a trailblazer on the European Tour and an example to many aspiring golfers around the country.”
Director of Galway Bay Golf Resort Ronan Killeen said Christy was a wonderful ambassador and supporter of Galway Bay Golf Resort, which he designed.
“He was a man who had time and a kind word for all. The huge success of his recent charity event, hosted at Galway Bay Golf Resort and where some €200,000 was raised for The Galway Hospice, is testament to his generosity and the esteem in which he was held by the Galway and Irish public.”
One of Christy’s oldest friends, John Mulholland, said the two had known each other for more than 50 years, having met at the Galway Golf Club as teenagers.
“It is such terrible news. Devastating, we were such great old buddies,” said John Mulholland.
He recalls how Christy’s uncle, golfer Christy O’Connor Snr, had sent him to England after turning professional aged 16 because he was not working hard enough, and he went on to win the 1975 Caroll’s Irish Open, the same year he also first played on the Ryder Cup team.
Mr Mulholland was instrumental in helping to secure Christy’s first sponsorship deal from John and Peggy Burke of Celtic International Insurance that would last a decade.
“I remember Christy put up a brilliant interview and came out with a great deal, and he never looked back - he was flying it. Although he eventually left John, we were always great buddies.”
“He also brought the first European tour event to Galway, the Celtic International Quincentennial Golf Classic 1984, and went on to enjoy success in course design, which began with Glasson and includes, among others, Mount Wolseley, Fota Island, Rathsallagh, Rosslare, and Knightsbrook, in addition to several in other European countries.”
Like many friends, John Mulholland was in attendance at the Ryder Cup, and believes Christy Jnr should have gone on to captain the European team.
“I do not know why he didn’t to captain the Ryder Cup team, I think he really deserved to.
“He was such a gregarious character, so easy to talk to and not one bit the star. He was very musical and loved nothing better than to play the melodeon or the tin whistle, and he had a great voice.”
Another mutual friend, Pat O’Grady, said there was no sign he was ill.
“He lived life to the full. He had time for everybody and none for himself, that was the problem. He was never as busy.”
Christy Junior is also survived by his daughter Ann and son Nigel. Sadly, his other son Darren died in a tragic road accident in 1998 aged just 17.