Ryder Cup hero O'Connor Jr. dies at age 67
January 06, 2016
By Laury Livsey, PGATOUR.COM
- Christy O'Connor Jr. was a key member of the 1989 European Ryder Cup team that retained the trophy. (Phil Inglis/Getty Images)
Christy O’Connor, Jr., a long-time European Tour player and a European Ryder Cup hero who solidified his reputation after turning 50 when he joined the PGA TOUR Champions, died Jan. 6 while vacationing in the Canary Islands. He was 67.
O’Connor, the nephew of European Tour star Christy O’Connor, Sr., turned professional in 1967 and won his first title—the Irish Match Play Championship—in 1973. He won the first and second of his four European Tour titles two years later, capturing the Martini International in a playoff over Ian Stanley in England, and the Carroll’s Irish Open by a shot over Harry Bannerman.
O’Connor went 14 years between European Tour victories, not winning again until the 1989 Jersey Open. His final Tour victory came at the 1992 Dunhill British Masters, outlasting Tony Johnstone in a playoff.
“I held Christy in very high regard, and he represented Ireland well throughout his illustrious career,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “I was very pleased when he turned 50 and started playing on PGA TOUR Champions on a regular basis. Through his PGA TOUR Champions’ career, many more people saw him play and learned what a fine player and tremendous competitor he was.”
O’Connor, born in Galway, Ireland, in 1948, had success throughout the world, also winning the 1974 Zambia Open and the 1990 Kenya Open. His best PGA TOUR finish was also his best showing in a major championship—a tie for third at the 1985 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in England.
When he turned 50, O’Connor took membership on both PGA TOUR Champions and the European Seniors Tour, winning a pair of titles on both circuits.
His two European Seniors Tour wins were perhaps the biggest of his career, with both coming at The Senior Open Championship in consecutive years. In his 1999 victory, at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, O’Connor dedicated his three-shot victory to his son Darren, who had died in a car crash six months earlier. A year after his first victory, O’Connor successfully defended his title at Royal County Down, also in Northern Ireland.
The 1999 season was a three-victory campaign for O’Connor, with two additional titles coming in the U.S. Besides his European Seniors Tour victory, it only took him six tournaments before winning on the PGA TOUR Champions. At the State Farm Senior Classic, O’Connor went wire to wire in Columbia, Md., holding off a hard-charging Bruce Fleisher by a stroke. Two starts later, at the Foremost Insurance Championship, O’Connor took a share of the final-round lead with South African John Bland then cruised to a four-shot victory following a final-round 68 at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada, Mich. Notable in the final round was his 5-wood, second-shot approach on the par-5 17th hole that led to an eagle when he made the 12-foot putt. After the round, O’Connor dedicated his title to his friend and business manager Myles Murphy, who died of cancer a day earlier.
In all, O’Connor played in 70 PGA TOUR Champions’ tournaments between 1999 and 2013—his last appearance coming at The Senior Open Championship.
O’Connor also gained significant notoriety at the 1989 Ryder Cup at The Belfry in England. Although the European team could only tie the U.S. squad, Europe retained the Cup because of its 1987 triumph over the Americans. O’Connor did his part on the final day of competition, defeating Fred Couples in the duo’s singles’ match, O’Connor hitting a 2-iron approach on the 18th hole to four feet to help secure his match triumph and preserve the tie. He also represented his country six times in the World Cup between 1974 and 1992.
O’Connor is survived by his wife, Ann, his son Nigel and daughter, Ann. Funeral services are pending.