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Christy O'Connor's Long Drop

How the smoking gun became a Hall Of Fame golfer.

Posted Nov 04, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece


Now that Christy O'Connor Snr has been formally inducted into golf's Hall of Fame, it seems appropriate to reflect on golfing events in this week, 50 years ago.  That was when the British and Irish team eventually arrived by Greyhound Bus for the 13th Ryder Cup matches at the Eldorado Country Club in Palm Spring, California, having survived what became known as The Long Drop.
This was when the charter aircraft, in which they were travelling the 150 miles from Los Angeles on the final leg of their itinerary, dropped like a stone from 13,000 to 9,000 feet, scaring the players half out of their wits.  When the pilot righted the plane and returned to Los Angeles, GB&I captain, Dai Rees, insisted, with the ready agreement of his players, that they would make the journey by road.
Later, for reasons that were never fully explained, Rees decided to team O'Connor and Peter Alliss together as foursomes partners in practice. And even if the players themselves didn't realise it, despite a sizzling 63 in practice, Rees knew he had uncovered some magic to throw in against an American team which was hell bent on victory, after the shock defeat at Lindrick two years previously.
 Half a century on, I wondered if O'Connor and Alliss had responded to their coming together in the manner advocated by the celebrated American psychologist, Dr Bob Rotella, who has advised Ryder Cup partners: "Before you start, you've got to turn to the guy you're playing with and say 'Look, I love you; I'm going to support you out there.'"
Alliss gave a quiet smile at the notion of such overt togetherness by one of the greatest duos in the history of golf.  "As far as that's concerned,"  he said, "I remember that on one of our early holes, I hit the ball into bushes and turned to Christy saying 'Oh, I'm so sorry.'  To which Christy replied: 'Are you doing your best?'  And when I assured him I was, he looked me in the eyes and said: 'Well, never apologise to me again.'  And I never did."
In the event, the little Welshman was fully vindicated when the Anglo-Irish partnership he had created, beat the reigning US Masters champion, Art Wall, and the 1957 Augusta winner, Doug Ford, by 3 and 2 over 36 holes.  It was Britain and Ireland's only win in the four foursomes and they went on to take a severe hammering overall by eight and a half points to three and a half.
As a pair, however, O'Connor and Alliss would go on to further Ryder Cup conquests.  "It seemed that destiny had decided we were a partnership for the long haul," Alliss told me. "They didn't have player-power in those days, so there was no question of the two of us informing the captain that we'd like to play together.  You were told what to do and you simply got on with it, despite being terrified of coming up against such American legends as Sam Snead.
"Anyway, who would have thought of pairing chalk with cheese?  Because that's what we were.  Though we've broken bread together, Christy and I have never dined in each other's homes.  We've never done anything that might prompt people to suggest 'Oh they'd make a great partnership; they're like blood brothers.'
"Chalk and bloody cheese.  In those days, Christy was what you might describe as a little bit rebellious, a bit of a smoking gun.  And I suppose in a quiet, English way, I could have been considered a sort of wayward catapult.  Anyway, fate threw us together and I know I always did my very, very best for Christy and, God knows, he did his very best for me.
"I just had the most amazing confidence in him.  Neither of us were good putters, yet we holed putts when it mattered.  We gave confidence to each other to the extent that we became a very solid partnership.  All the while, a wonderful golfing friendship developed over the years.  And I love Mary (Christy's wife) to death.  I've always thought of her as a great lady."
From 1959 to 1969, after which Alliss retired from tournament golf, they played 12 Ryder Cup matches together, winning five, losing six and halving one.  Other notable partnerships from this side of the Atlantic were Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam (played 10, won five, lost three, halved two), and Bernard Gallacher and Brian Barnes (played 10, won five, lost four, halved one).
The ultimate Ryder Cup pairing, however, was to become known simply as the Spanish Armada.  Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal won 11, halved two and lost only two out of their 15 matches together.  And in one of the charming coincidences that we find in golf, Olazabal happened to be among those honoured with O'Connor in St Augustine on Monday night.

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