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Darren Clarke: Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jnr was my mentor

By Frank Brownlow

Published 07/01/2016

Memories: Christy O’Connor Jnr (front left) after Europe retained the Ryder Cup at the Belfry in 1989
Memories: Christy O’Connor Jnr (front left) after Europe retained the Ryder Cup at the Belfry in 1989

Darren Clarke has led the tributes to Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jnr who has died suddenly at the age of 67. O'Connor Jnr helped Europe retain the Ryder Cup at the Belfry in 1989 when his two-iron approach at the last sealed a singles win over Fred Couples.

The Galway native won four European Tour titles including the Irish Open at Woodbrook in 1975.

Ulsterman Clarke, who will captain the European team in their Ryder Cup defence at Hazeltine later this year, said: "Christy was a larger than life character, very friendly and always smiling.

"He was very much a mentor to me when I started out on the Tour. He showed me the ropes.

Read more:

Farewell to the great Christy O'Connor Jnr, who wrote a glorious chapter of Ireland's golfing story  

"The shot he played in the 1989 Ryder Cup under such pressure was testament to just how good a player he was.

"He was a genuinely good man and will be sadly missed," added the 2011 Open champion.

Ulsterman David Jones and O'Connor were contemporaries on the European Tour.

"Christy was a great character. He was a great raconteur and had real charisma," he said.

"He was a fine golfer who played at the very top for a long, long time. He then went on to enjoy much success in the seniors.

"He also designed some lovely courses and also commentated.

"Christy would always go out of his way to do you a good turn. He loved helping people and always tried to include everyone in whatever was going on.

"He loved life and was very generous with his time."

Recalling their playing days together in the 1970s and 80s, Jones said: "Golf was more of an adventure in those days.

"There was great camaraderie. There was a group of Irish players on the Tour and we shared cars to tournaments and flew together.

"Sometimes we would have landed at an airport and been depending on a mate of Christy's to come and give us a lift to the tournament. Changed times!"

Eamonn Darcy, who played alongside O'Connor Jnr in the 1975 Ryder Cup, said he was "numb and stunned" at the news.

"He was larger than life," he said. "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."

Reflecting on the 1989 Ryder Cup, Darcy added: "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."

Offaly native Shane Lowry, a contender for a place on the Ryder Cup team, added: "Very sad news about Christy O'Connor Jnr. An absolute legend of Irish golf. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones."

Former European Tour chief executive Ken Schofield said O'Connor Jnr was "every amateur's dream as the perfect pro-am partner, on and off the course".

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny passed on his condolences.

He said: "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."

President Michael D Higgins described O'Connor as "an iconic figure who possessed warmth and generosity".

Tributes from the wider sporting world included one from Ulster boxing legend Barry McGuigan.

"Dreadfully sorry to hear of the passing of Christy O'Connor Jnr, taken much too soon, RIP. Deepest sympathies to his family," he said.

O'Connor Jnr was a keen 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".

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