This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday, Tee to Green supplement on 22 September 201
The first horse Christy Roche rode for golf lover JP MCManus was Cill Dara in the 1977 Irish Cesarewitch. How ironic then that he would win his first All Ireland with Cill Dara Golf Club last September, capturing the Jimmy Bruen Shield just a fortnight after his beloved Tipperary defeated Kilkenny to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup.
- Name: Christy Roche
- Club: Cill Dara
- Handicap: 14
1 How did you get into golf?
I got into golf late in life. I was well into my 30s when I started but I was still riding at that stage. I was working hard and it was nice to have the afternoons free and I could play a lot down in Cahir. It was close to Ballydoyle, where I was at the time. It’s funny but a lot of the racing lads like to play. When they have a bit of free time they love to be out in the fresh air, getting a bit of exercise. I still love it.
2 Who are the thoroughbred golfers in the racing game then?
AP McCoy is a very good golfer. In fact, most of them play to a pretty high standard. And Mick Fitzgerald, he’s excellent.
3 You won the Epsom Derby on Secreto in 1984. But what’s been the highlight of your golfing “career” so far? Winning the Jimmy Bruen Shield with Cill Dara last weekend?
That’s easy. I played with Tiger Woods in JP McManus’ Invitational Pro Am down in Limerick. That was a real experience — my standout moment in golf. He was in his prime and there was an aura about him, just the way he walked down the fairway. You realised how good a golfer you were when you were out with him. The way he struck the ball and what he could do with it was incredible to see. He was different. The strike on the ball. It was just perfect.
4 What was he like? Did he show an interest in what you did?
Oh he did, yes. He was a lovely man. JP introduced us to a lot of wonderful people in those times.
5 JP owns Adare Manor now, of course. The renovation is underway. How do you think it will turn out? Have you heard?
Unbelievable, I hear. There will be no stone left unturned, I promise you that.
6 So what keeps you busy now that you’ve retired? Horses or golf?
I have a place here right out in the middle of The Curragh. Curragh View, it’s called. I can look out the window and there isn’t a house in sight. Newbridge is eight miles away! I’m originally from a place called Bansha in Co Tipperary. That’s where it all started for me with horses. I’m on the back nine now, though. I have always had 25 horses or so and a good few brood mares and stock of my own.
7 That doesn’t leave much time for golf?
Well, the afternoons are usually free. In fact, I have a bit of The Curragh mowed just outside my gate, so I have a little practice area there. I can hit as many balls as I want. All I have to move is the sheep! But Cill Dara, I’ve been a member there for as long as I can remember. I don’t even have to take the car on the road to get there. I can just drive across The Curragh and I’m there.
8 Driver or putter?
Well, the game is not as good as it once was. But the short game is my forte. I wouldn’t be a long hitter. So putter.
9 What’s your most memorable shot?
Well, in the Jimmy Bruen it was all about pressure with all the members around. That’s memorable. You are not playing for yourself but the club. So that’s a different tension. In the racing game, you are working for an owner and that’s it. But in the Cups and Shields, you’re playing for four or five hundred people.
10 Surely a man of your experience doesn’t feel pressure
Well, I’m certainly used to the pressure game but I find that as you get older, you get a bit jittery. (Laughs).
11 What’s the most nervous you’ve been on a racehorse?
I was never too nervous. Before a big race, like the Derby, you’d have butterflies on the morning. But once you get on a horse’s back — and I think all jockeys are the same — the nerves leave you.
12 What’s your most treasured possession?
Winning the Epsom Derby. That was the big thing in my career. It was a huge achievement for me. The memory of that day is something I treasure, definitely.
13 It can’t have been easy to get to that point and become a Derby winning jockey. Did you have a hero? Someone to look up to? And who gave you your start in the racing game?
PJ Prendergast Snr, Paddy Prendergast, was the trainer who gave me my start when I was 13 years of age. As for heroes, Lester Piggott was the one for me. He goes down as the greatest. To play with Tiger was huge, but as a boy growing up, Lester Piggott was the jockey I looked up to. He was just the king.
14 What made him special?
His nerve. He had unbelievable nerve. And as a rider, he was way ahead of his time. Thirty or 40 years ago, he was competing at the level that jockeys are competing at now. We say now that sport has moved on so much, but Lester was definitely 30 years ahead of his time. Mentally, he was in a different league too.
15 Do you have a favourite par three? Or just a favourite spot in golf?
No. I love the challenge of all sorts of courses. I’ve played some beautiful courses and Adare is a beautiful course. I’m really looking forward to seeing the new Adare.
16 Are you a man to have regrets?
No. I think I overachieved at the racing game. Sport has given me so much and I couldn’t look back and say I had a regret along the way. Everything has been a dream come true. I won the Irish Derby three times and all the classics. I won all over the world and had a great career. I retired at 50. I was in the top three in the Irish jockey’s championship for years, champion jockey six times [it was seven!]. I overachieved. I never classed myself to be one of the greats but I overachieved, that’s for sure. I was so lucky.
17 Is there a course you’d love to play before you die? Maybe you could bring your dream fourball.
Well, I played St Andrews last year. I stood on the first tee on the Old Course, and it’s got something special. There’s Something magical there. It’s just a place you love to be. And I hit my tee shot into he drain. We were off a forward tee. I never thought I’d reach.
As for fourballs, where I play in Cill Dara, there is no putting your name down with your friends. It’s unique in that you just walk out in the evening with your clubs and whoever turns up, off you go. It’s a social club — just a lovely place to play golf.
18 What’s your idea of perfect happiness and your motto for getting through life?
Happiness is family. My son had his first child there just last Monday week and that’s a wonderful moment of happiness. As for a motto, well it’s just about hard work. Work hard and play fair. We gave Athenry a putt on the 18th last weekend and afterwards, we all felt very happy that we did that. It’s important to win right. And to lose the right way too. In racing, you learn quickly that there are more losing days than anything else.
This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday, Tee to Green supplement on 22 September 201. Tee to Green returned on January 5 after a two-week Christmas break with a Quick 18 with Finbar Furey. See today's paper for the supplement.