Irish pro golfer O’Connor had strong faith, priest says at funeral

Christy O'Connor Junior, an Irish golfer who helped Europe retain the Ryder Cup in 1989, is seen in this undated photo. The former European champion died in the Canary Islands Jan. 6 at the age of 67. (CNS photo/Public Domain)
Christy O’Connor Junior, an Irish golfer who helped Europe retain the Ryder Cup in 1989, is seen in this undated photo. The former European champion died in the Canary Islands Jan. 6 at the age of 67. (CNS photo/Public Domain)

by Catholic News Service

GALWAY, Ireland (CNS) — Irish golfer Christy O’Connor Jr. had “a strong faith” that helped him cope with the 1998 death of his 17-year-old son, Darren, in a road accident.

“He certainly believed in the communion of saints,” Father Michael Kelly said at the Jan. 11 funeral Mass in Galway cathedral. “He spoke openly and confidently of his conviction that he would meet Darren again. He prayed to him and for him and was convinced that Darren came to his assistance more than once.”

However, he told the family of the 67-year-old pro golfer: “Unfortunately, that same belief will not fill the vacant chair or the emptiness that you are experiencing in your hearts today. Although out of sight, Christy will be watching over you. He has only gone to God, and God is very near.”

O’Connor died Jan. 6 in the Canary Islands. He was known as Christy O’Connor Jr. because he was the nephew of another professional golfer, Christy O’Connor Sr. The younger O’Connor served an apprenticeship with his uncle and had a career that continued into the 21st century with the Senior PGA Tour and the European Senior Tour.

He had four European tour wins, the first in 1978 and the last in 1992, and Ryder Cup appearances in 1975 and in 1989, when his 2-iron shot on the 18th hole at The Belfry ensured that Europe retained the cup that year.

That 2-iron was put to good use in more ways than one. O’Connor donated it to a charity auction in aid of cancer relief, and it raised 50,000 pounds. The buyer then returned the club to the golfer, who continued to play with it until 1990 when his car was stolen, with his clubs inside it, and the 2-iron was never seen again.

The golfer used to say that after he won the 1990 Kenya Open, an elderly Irish missionary nun approached him and asked, “Would you leave me your 2-iron for charity?” To which he replied, “Yes, of course, but that isn’t the same club as I had at The Belfry.” He would add: “The nun thought about it for a moment, before saying ‘Ah but, who will know?'”

After O’Connor’s death, 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 humor.”

At O’Connor’s funeral, Father Kelly echoed the praise, saying: “His leaving has left our world a poorer place. He was one in a million.”

Copyright ©2016 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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