Ryder Cup legend likes Padraig Harrington's chances

Christy O’Connor Junior was on the national radio airwaves on Tuesday morning, and a fine interview it was ahead of this weekend’s Ryder Cup formalities at the Celtic Manor resort just outside Cardiff in Wales.

Now there’s one topic that is guaranteed to come up in conversation wherever and whenever the junior member of Ireland’s greatest golfing family takes center stage – that two iron to the 18th at the Belfry in 1989.
Hard as it seems to believe, for me anyway, that Christy hit the greatest golf shot of his life all of 21 years ago this weekend, and it is still the stuff of Irish golfing folklore.

And so RTE’s Darren Frehill, a fine young man, went into the archives and replayed the BBC commentary from the 1989 match for us when Christy’s two iron went to the soul of Europe’s challenge that day, never mind to the within a few feet of the flag.

It was quite a shot, and while it may not have echoed around the world like other shots we could mention, it did ensure Christy’s place in the Ryder Cup Hall of Fame on the day he went toe to toe with then world number one Freddy Couples and beat him.

I can still see the television pictures from that long off day as Christy hit the shot then drew in the applause of all those gathered around the 18th green as the ball edged ever closer to the holy grail.

His reaction was memorable as he threw his arms to the heavens and thanked the golfing Gods for opening the door to his personal pantheon.

From that day to this, Christy O’Connor Junior can do nothing wrong in the eyes of those who know their golf, and he hasn’t been slow to make the most of it.

He’s made money on the pro circuit in America and Europe, he has designed some of the best new courses in Ireland, including my beloved Headfort, and he has acted as an ambassador for his country and his sport wherever he has gone.

He’s also done his bit for charity, more than his bit if truth be told. I’ve been to at least two charity golf events where the two iron used by Christy on that fateful day was the guest of honor.

I’ve also seen it -- or replicas -- on the walls of more than one golf club! That’s how important that shot and that club was to Christy and to the rest of his life.

That’s also why he was the man of the moment as far as the lead item on Tuesday morning’s sports news was concerned.

Young Frehill didn’t ask Christy onto his show to talk about Dublin’s victory in the ladies football final on Sunday or Fermanagh’s decision to appoint John O’Neill as their new football team manager.

I’m sure Christy, a gregarious character at the best of times, would have been well qualified to talk Gaelic football, seeing as how he is a proud Galway man.

But no, one topic dominated the conversation between the two, and I’m glad to report that not alone did Christy tip Europe for glory in Wales this weekend, he also backed Padraig Harrington to be the difference between golf’s greatest rivals.

“To win one major is a great achievement, to win three of them is unbelievable, so I just don’t understand why people are doubting Padraig ahead of this Ryder Cup,” said O’Connor of his fellow Irishman who only made the team courtesy of a wildcard pick from captain Colin Montgomerie.

“For me he will be the star of the show, and I wouldn’t like to be the American who has to face him in the singles on Sunday.”

That American could well be the disgraced Tiger Woods, himself on wild card duty in Wales this week.
So one final thought on this eagerly anticipated Ryder Cup, who would you rather in your corner -- Tiger or Padraig?

Like Christy O’Connor Junior, my money is on the Irishman, and I look forward to Padraig ramming the English criticism back down their throats on Celtic soil this weekend.

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