Christy O’Connor: A fluid swing forged by ‘Himself’
Monday, November 2, 2009
Ireland’s most famous golf legend doesn’t need to be identified by his full name. Mention “Himself” in any clubhouse in the Emerald Isle and any golfer will think of Christy O’Connor.
No golfer in Ireland is as well-loved as the 84-year-old, who becomes only the second Irishman, after the late Joe Carr, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
A smile comes to the faces of current Irish stars Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington when asked about O’Connor. The Irish legend has strongly influenced both men’s careers.
“I still keep in touch with ‘Himself,’ ” McGinley said. “I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of golf with Christy over the years, and like everyone else it was fascinating to watch him play. He always had words of encouragement, but most of all the game seemed to come so easy to him. Watching how he could control the ball and the ball flight was what appealed to me most. I’ve never seen a better wind player than Christy.”
As a teenager, Harrington was lucky enough to play with O’Connor. In fact, O’Connor has helped influence Harrington’s strong work ethic.
“The greatest lesson he gave me was when he rebuked somebody one day for saying he (Christy) had a very natural golf swing,” Harrington said. “He told the man how much work he had put in to get his swing that way.
“He was pointing out to me how much practice he had done to build his swing. He was making sure to me as a 15- or 16-year-old that through hard work you built a swing, that it wasn’t just given to you.”
Some of Ireland’s greatest players succeeded with unorthodox swings. From Jimmy Bruen’s famous loop to Eamonn Darcy’s ungainly chop, Irish players have developed no end of methods to help battle the strong winds that buffet the Irish coastline. O’Connor was the most fluid swinger of them all. “Christy flows through the ball like fine wine,” Lee Trevino once said.
O’Connor developed his swing in County Galway. Born in Knocknacarra, O’Connor grew up only a wedge shot from the seventh tee of Galway Golf Club. He began life as a caddie but filled his time productively between bags.
“Life was tough in those days, and to help out, I used to caddie at the Galway Club,” O’Connor said in John Cunningham’s “History of Galway Golf Club.’’
“In between rounds, I spent hours on end chipping and putting around the first green. In time I became a fanatic.
“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.”
Worthwhile, indeed. The Irishman won 43 professional tournaments, including the British Masters, Irish Open, the PGA Match Play and other now-defunct European Tour events.
In 1958, he teamed with Harry Bradshaw to win the Canada Cup (now the World Cup).
The boy from poor farming stock made history in 1970 when he won the then-highest prize in golf: £25,000 for winning the John Player Classic in Manchester.
O’Connor was a mainstay on Great Britain and Ireland teams from 1957 to 1975. In his debut, he helped GB&I win the ’57 match at Lindrick. O’Connor thrashed Dow Finsterwald 7 and 6 in singles to help GB&I win the cup for the first time since 1933.
O’Connor never played on another winning team. The closest was the 1969 match at Royal Birkdale, a 16-16 tie. Overall, he compiled an 11-22-4 Ryder Cup record.
The Irishman never won a major, but he only played in the Open Championship. He finished runner-up to Peter Thomson in 1965, one of his 10 top-10 finishes in the game’s oldest tournament.
“Apart from winning a major, getting inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame is the highest accolade you can receive,” McGinley said. “It’s very well deserved. He will be a very proud Irishman.”
More 2009 Hall of Fame profiles:
• Dwight D. Eisenhower: Golf at the White House (by Adam Schupak)
• Christy O’Connor: A fluid swing forged by ‘Himself’ (by Alistair Tait)
• Jose Maria Olazabal: Dignified, determined and dazzling (by Alistair Tait)
• Lanny Wadkins: He didn’t know how to lay up (by Jeff Rude)