LONDON (AP) — Christy O’Connor Jr., the Irish golfer who produced the shot of his career to help Europe retain the Ryder Cup in 1989, has died. He was 67.
O’Connor died in his sleep while on holiday in Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, the European Tour said on Wednesday.
The crowning moment of O’Connor’s career came at The Belfry in his second appearance for Europe at the Ryder Cup.
O’Connor hit a 2-iron from the fairway to about 3 1/2 feet at the 18th, helping him to win the hole and secure a 1-up victory over Fred Couples. The point helped Tony Jacklin’s European team earn a 14-14 draw to retain the trophy as defending champion.
After Couple conceded the match, O’Connor looked up to the sky, with his arms outstretched, and was brought to tears as he was mobbed on the green.
“It was the greatest and most emotional moment of my professional life,” O’Connor, who won four events in 28 years on the European Tour, said in 2010 of the 2-iron.
The Golf Union of Ireland described O’Connor, who became heavily involved in golf course design, 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 nephew of Irish golfer Christy O’Connor, O’Connor Jr. didn’t finish outside the top 100 of the European Tour’s Order of Merit in his first 21 seasons following its inception in 1972. He won the Senior British Open in 1999 and 2000, and won two titles on the Champions Tour in 1999.
“We’ve lost a true Irishman, character and golfer,” former Ryder Cup player and captain Paul McGinley said. O’Connor will forever be remembered for his 2-iron from 229 yards against Couples, which won him his only Ryder Cup point having been 1 down to the American with three holes to play.
“I said to Christy, ‘Come on, one more good swing for Ireland’ and, of course, he hit the shot of his lifetime,” Jacklin said. “We couldn’t have retained it without him, no doubt.”
O’Connor’s other Ryder Cup appearance was in 1975.
“Christy played in the shadow of his uncle but he became a legend in his own right, especially in Ireland,” Jacklin said. “He will also be remembered for his architecture, and his name will live on for a long time to come.”