Christy O’Connor “Himself” was voted Ireland’s greatest Sportsperson ever in the Millennium, some accolade when you consider all the great sportsman we have produced.
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of “Himself” one of life’s Gentlemen having had the pleasure of spending many hours of quality time in his company on and off the golf course he created a lasting memory of how I was lucky enough to have had the privilege of meeting my boyhood hero and getting the meet the Father of Irish Golf.
Wherever he is now I hope there is a narrow fairway with a strong cross wind blowing and nothing surer Christy will be in center of the fairway. I and tens of thousands of others lives will be the poorer by his passing.
I could not have broken 80 from the places O'Connor got himself into, never at any time in my life.
Byron Nelson (After Christy's 65 in the 2nd round of the 1969 Open at Lytham)
This year of 2020 marked the 65th anniversary of Christie's first professional tournament and qualifying for the Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team was the height of his golfing ambition. Little did he even dream that he would qualify for the Ryder Cup in Palm Springs in 1955.
Back then we were all club professionals, not tournament players, and we had to look after our members, run the shop and give lessons to make ends meet. Those were the days when we used every daylight hour and many 's the nightlight hour we spent making clubs over the winter months and selling them when the new season began. That was when we scrimped and saved to play in tournaments: that was when there were only four national Opens in Europe: that was when golf was almost an elitist game in this country and when golf was relegated to a couple of paragraphs, if any, in the sports pages.
But we had read about the great American players: the game was beginning to enjoy a boom there and they brought a great colour to the game. We almost believed they were unbeatable, they weren't but they were better treated than we were. The Ryder Cup arose from an unofficial match between American and British golf professionals at Wentworth in 1926, which the home team won comfortably. Samuel Ryder, an Englishman who made his fortune selling penny packets of seed, agreed to put up a trophy. He even proposed prize money." I'll give £5 to each of the winning players," he said," and I'll give a party afterwards, with champagne and chicken sandwiches."
The money idea didn't last, but Ryder provided the solid gold trophy worth £250 and when an appeal for £3,000 to finance the first official team met with apathy and fell £500 short, he provided that as well. The following June the British team set sail from Southampton on board the Aquitania. Before the long journey began, however, British captain Abe Mitchell (the figure on top of the cup and the man who had been teaching Ryder the game - now there's something not many of you may have known!) had to withdraw because of appendicitis.
Anyway, back to 1955; it was some thrill for me to make the team and confirmation that I had made the right choice of career. I thought of the many days I sneaked out of the local national school and raced on my bicycle to the Galway Golf Club, the practice sessions on the playing fields of St. Enda's College in Galway my family and friends who supported me and Bob Wallace, the resident professional in Galway whom I joined as an assistant in 1946 and who had become a father figure to me.
I made my Ryder Cup debut at the Thunderbird Ranch and Country Club in Palm Springs, which was set in the middle of a desert. Now I had read of men dying of thirst in a desert and here was this magnificent course set in the middle of one was something new to me. The American team was dressed in outstanding colours and we felt we were two or three down before we started! And we got to hear that these fellas were getting money for using clubs, balls, shoes, slacks, shirts and sweaters and some were even getting free transport and free accommodation in five-star hotels. 'Twas far removed from the lot of the club professionals on this side of the Atlantic. I went in as No.1 against Tommy Bolt in the singles, having lost the foursomes 3 and 1.Now Bolt had a reputation that had crossed the water for having a short fuse and had earned the nickname 'Thunder 'Bolt. He was one of the top players on the PGA Tour in the '50s and '60s, but was probably better known for his tendency to throw his clubs after he'd played a bad shot.
Bolt said that throwing clubs was a way to release tension and that most players who threw clubs were very serious about the game. His club-throwing exploits didn't prevent him from being one of the best players of his era; he won 14 PGA Tour events, including the 1958 U.S. Open.
"I threw a few (clubs), but not as many as I am accused of throwing "he said in a 1998 interview." They didn't make that many clubs. "And he told me on one occasion that he always tried to remember to throw the club in front of him so that he could pick it up on his way to the next shot, rather than face more humiliation if he had to turn back to collect it! Enough of that, back to our singles match and the part played by my American caddy. We had worked well together until we came to about the sixth hole; Bolt was in trouble in a bunker and I was in the middle of the fairway. The caddy handed me a three-iron, I hit it perfectly, stood back in admiration that turned to anger as the ball flew over the green and into a bush and I 'd lost hole. I should have won.
The clubbing didn't improve and I walked off the 18th green three down. I accused the caddy of selling me out and told him not to give me any more advice. Bolt, who was in earshot, could afford his wry smile. But things changed quickly when I had two early wins on the second eighteen. Bolt began to lose his temper and show why he had deservedly earned his nickname; his face grew darker and the clubs began to fly until help arrived in the unlikely figure of American bandleader, singer and comedian, Phil Harris. The older ones among you may remember him; he was well known for such songs as 'The Darktown Poker Club ','Woodman Spare That Tree ','Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! That Cigarette 'and 'The Preacher and the Bear '; the younger among you may remember him as the voice of 'Baloo 'in Disney's "The Jungle Book."
He had a reputation as a laid-back wisecracking guy and he seemed to have a calming influence on 'Thunder 'Bolt as he cajoled and coaxed him back to self-composure. Bolt 's 4 and 2 win owed much to the craggy-faced Harris and my caddy! I never learned to trust strange caddies!
I am delighted to be associated with what can only be the best researched, comprehensive, accurate, imaginatively and user-friendly almanac on Irish Golf ever compiled. I am confident that visitors to Ireland will find this website invaluable, informative and amusing, and trust you will find it as enjoyable as I have.'
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