By Brian Keogh
Belfry legend Christy O’Connor Jnr helped Paul McGinley to Ryder Cup glory - by acting as his guardian angel.
O‘Connor will always be remembered forever for his finishing two iron to four feet in the 1989 Ryder Cup that ensured that Europe would retain the trophy.
But the veteran Galwayman knew that McGinley would need all the support he could get and followed every shot on the way round.
O’Connor said: “I followed Paul the whole way around and I think he appreciated it. I was there on every tee and just kept cheering him on.
“I gave him a massive lift. But his golf was good. I knew it was good I think it was just the Ryder Cup hanging over his head that was affecting him this season. It was fantastic what he did - the way he played the last hole.”
McGinley admitted afterwards that hearing the Irish voices on every tee kept him going.
He said: “One guy shouted, ‘Remember Armagh,’ when I was two down. And I did remember how Armagh came back in the All Ireland final against Kerry and that gave me a lift. It kept me going right until the end.
“You can always hear the Irish wherever we play in the world and it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Junior knows all about the pressure of the Ryder Cup and he felt that his presence would help McGinley to drive on for glory in a match that could prove vital.
“I had a feeling that Paul’s match could be the one and that’s how it turned out,” he said. “It was absolutely unbelievable and one of the greatest memories I’ll ever have. It was just fantastic.
“It compares with my own day back in ‘89. Nobody expected the guys to pull it off yesterday, going out even. I just think Sam made a fantastic job of the draw.
“Curtis Strange never read what Sam was going to do and that was a huge break. Then the guys said let’s play golf and they played marvellously. They were wonderful.”
The pressure generated at the Ryder Cup makes the Majors look like run of the mill tournaments and O’Connor still finds it hard to describe the gut wrenching terror of having to make the 180-yard carry over the water the 18th green.
“It’s just horrendous,” he explained. “All you see is people around the green. You know the world is on your shoulders to pull off that one shot. Paul said that his ball finished up two yards from mine. He was right next to where mine was in 1989, next to the plaque, and he said it made it feel pretty good. So that makes me feel good too.
“He said that he wanted to hit a shot like mine - something similar - and he hit a pretty good shot which just bounced off the green and on. He hit what I thought was a decent pitch which ran on and left himself with a sizeable putt but thankfully he holed it. It was just absolutely tremendous. I’ve never heard crowds screaming like it in my life.”
O’Connor celebrated with the players inside the ropes at the 18th before leaving the scene to the 2002 team.
“The funny thing was that when I came off the 18th and under the ropes again I got a cheer that was as big as if I was part of the team itself. Winning the Ryder Cup is something that never leaves you.
“It will stay with Paul and the other guys too. Padraig played fantastic, Darren got a great half and we can be proud of them.”
As for the possibility of Torrance’s staying on to defend the trophy in two year’s time, O’Connor was doubtful.
“I don’t think Sam will stay on. He’d like to get out and play golf. There are bunches of guys who are qualified to do the same role and once is enough for any man.”
O’Connor Junior could well be in Torrance’s shoes when the Ryder Cup comes to the K Club in 2006.