With the Irish Open taking centre stage on the European Tour this week, Tony spoke to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez about one of his mentors, the great Christy O’Connor senior.
“What a natural golfer Christy was. I’ve never seen anybody more natural than him. It was all based on the fundamentals and he swung the club so freely.
His right arm was almost horizontal across his body when he finished. I used to play as much as I could with the likes of Christy and Argentina’s Roberto Di Vicenzo. They were both tarred with the same brush. Pure ball strikers.
There was never a dull moment with Christy. I remember touring South Africa with him in the winter of 1964-65 alongside Ernie Jones and Peter Green. We all shared this huge Fairlane car. It was owned by the South African Harold Henning and he rented it to us for eight weeks.
It was massive and it burned more oil than petrol but the important thing was that we could all get our clubs in the boot. We played all over the place, we went from Johannesburg to Cape Town and there was hardly any tread left on the tyres.
I was the designated driver and we had to keep Christy under control because when his wife Mary wasn’t around, all you had to do was give him a lager and he wanted to fight the world. I think that deep down he never liked being away from home but he refused to admit it.
I once asked him what his golfing theory was and he turned round, smiled and said, ‘If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you’.
He used to go behind a big old tree in Galway with a five-iron and a dozen balls. He would then slice three of them around the tree, hook three, go over the top with three more and then go underneath the branches with the last lot of balls. Christy maintained that if he could do that, he was ready to play.
I used to travel over to Ireland a lot for the Carrolls tournament, an event that Christy won a bunch of times, and I’ve got fond memories of Harry Bradshaw, who used to put his wellies on and walk across the estuary to the pro shop at Portmarnock when the water was down.
The Irish always have been great characters. I spent so much time with them. If Christy would have been able to putt he would have won a bunch of Open titles, although in the 1960s and 1970s we didn’t really focus on that side of the game because the greens were always so inconsistent.
We were also playing links courses 70 percent of the time back then, battling the elements, the wind and the rain, and you had to be able to control the ball the best you could in the conditions. No one was better at that than Christy.
I learned very early to try and stay away from the drinking. I remember he and I flew to America in 1965, my first time, for the Carling World Championship in Boston, Massachusetts. He finished fifth and we travelled back to London via Shannon.
I was down to play in an assistants championship and we had gone through a rain delay in Boston so I called ahead and asked for my tee time to be delayed until the afternoon.
Christy drank Carling lager all through the flight and by the time we landed in Shannon he was in a helluva state. We were in customs for a while and he then started drinking Irish coffees. I said, “I’m on the tee in five hours’ time’. He was in a belligerent mood and insisted, ‘You’ll have a drink’. You couldn’t say ‘no’ so I had a little sip and thankfully Mary arrived and got him under control.
There was another time when we went to the World Cup in Japan in 1966. Jimmy Martin, who was another great character, was Christy’s partner and the two of them shared a room that week.
Jimmy reckoned there were four Japanese guys who used to carry Christy back every night, one on each arm and leg, to drop him back to his room.
Christy was such a great character and a real sweetheart of a man. I appreciated the time I spent with him, and I spent a lot of time with him. I tried to play practice rounds with him whenever I could and we also played a lot of competitive rounds together too.
I can think of lots more fine Irish golfers from years back: Fred Daly, Joe Carr, Noel Fogarty, Jimmy Bruen, Eamonn Darcy. It was like opening a box of natural with those guys.
It was Christy who taught me the free and easy way to do it. That whatever comes to you naturally, is what you rely on going forward. He was as good as there was in terms of controlling the ball on a links. It was amazing he never won The Open.’