One of the biggest stars of Irish golf, Christy O’Connor Jnr, has died.
The 67-year-old from Galway was best remembered for helping Europe win the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1989 when he fired a stunning shot with his two iron to within feet of the hole.
The Golf Union of Ireland paid tribute by posting a clip of the memorable shot online and a note describing him as “a gentleman, an iconic figure of Irish golf and a true ambassador”.
“He was a pioneer for professional Irish golfers and inspired a generation of players,” the organisation said.
O’Connor Jnr’s career highlights included two Ryder Cup appearances, 17 professional tournament wins, four wins on the European Tour and two British Open Senior titles.
It is understood he was on holiday in Tenerife when he died.
In his latter years O’Connor Jnr – the nephew of another hero of Irish golf, Christy O’Connor Snr – was heavily involved in designing golf courses.
Tributes began to flood in following news of his death.
O’Connor Jnr was a 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.
The Professional Golfers’ Association said: “Sad news that Ryder Cup hero Christy O’Connor Jnr has passed away.”
Local politician in Galway, Brian Walsh, said: “A great talent who brought much enjoyment to many and worked quietly to benefit Galway causes.”
Michael Ring, Ireland’s junior minister for sport, described O’Connor as one of the country’s finest golfers and sportsmen.
“He contributed so much to sport in Ireland and was a role model for many Irish golfers,” he said.
“Christy was a very talented golfer and everyone involved in Irish sport will be saddened at the news of his passing today.”
“I knew Christy personally and he was a model sportsman and a thorough gentleman. He will be greatly missed”.
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “I knew Christy personally 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.”
Mr Kenny said O’Connor Jnr’s famous two iron at the Belfry is an image that will remain fixed forever in the minds of all Irish golf and sporting fans.
He described him as a trail-blazer on the European Tour and an example to many aspiring golfers.
O’Connor Jnr is survived by his wife Ann, son Nigel and daughter Ann.
The golfer’s other son, Darren, died in a road accident in 1998 aged 17.
Irish President Michael D Higgins said: ” As a sportsman, and as an iconic figure in golf, Christy represented his country and its people on the international stage with distinction, dignity and great humour.”
The president, also from Galway, described the Belfry success as “outstanding and courageous”.
“He was always very proud of his Galway connections and gave support to so many admirable and humanitarian projects,” he said.
“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.”
The European Tour confirmed that O’Connor Jnr had been on holiday in Tenerife when he died in his sleep.
George O’Grady, tour chief executive from 2004-2015, said: “It is a very sad day for the O’Connor family and for Ireland as a whole.
“Christy Jnr was a legendary figure and his immense legacy is far more than purely his playing record. He was a universally popular player and always enhanced every tournament he played, no matter the occasion. His infectious charm will be sorely missed.”
Ken Schofield, European Tour executive director from 1975-2004, said: ” Much more so for everyone involved with the Tour and the game of golf, Christy will be remembered as a gentleman spirit – every amateur golfer’s dream as the perfect pro-am partner, on and off the golf course.
“It is a very sad day for the game and our hearts go out to Ann and all the extended family.”
PGA chief executive Sandy Jones said: ” He was an outstanding player and also an Irishman who won the Irish Open, so he had a good career including playing in two Ryder Cups 14 years apart, which was an amazing feat, but more than that he was a really nice guy.
“I knew him quite well and did a few dinners with him and always enjoyed his company. The great thing about him was that he always had a laugh and a smile on his face and was a legendary figure of Irish golf.
“He was a great character and I was very shocked and very saddened to hear of his sudden passing and he will certainly be missed.”
O’Connor Jnr played on the European Tour from its inception in 1972 and in his first 21 seasons he was ranked in the top 100 order of merit.
Among his biggest wins were the Irish Open in 1975 and the Dunhill British Masters in 1992.
Elsewhere, after joining the over-50s ranks, O’Connor Jnr won by three-shots in the 1999 Senior Open Championship at Royal Portrush before returning to Northern Ireland a year later to successfully defend the title at Royal County Down.
He also lifted two titles on the Champions Tour in America in 1999.
Among his famous course designs are Shane Lowry’s home golf course Esker Hills, Co Offaly, and former Irish Open venue Fota Island in Cork.