Christy O‘Connor and John Panton MBE, two of the game’s most distinguished players and respected ambassadors, have been accorded Honorary Life Membership of The European Tour.
O‘Connor, who celebrated his 80th birthday on 21st December 2004, is one of the most gifted players ever to grace the game and one of the greatest sporting stars Ireland has produced.
Ten successive Ryder Cup Matches and a host of tournament victories remain a testimony to what O‘Connor achieved on the golf course and he had a swing that attracted plaudits from around the world. The great Lee Trevino was once moved to say of him: “To me only three players have looked entirely natural swinging a golf club – Christy, Roberto de Vicenzo and Neil Coles. Christy flows through the ball like fine wine.”
O‘Connor was held in such esteem, he became known simply as “Himself”. His career contained many great triumphs but the two which have given him the greatest pleasure were firstly playing a part in the 1957 Ryder Cup victory at Lindrick, when the Great Britain and Ireland Team captained by Dai Rees ended 24 years of American domination, and secondly when he won the Canada Cup, now the World Cup, in 1958 with his great friend, Harry Bradshaw, in Mexico City.
O‘Connor also won the first £1,000 cheque in European golf in 1955 and in 1970 won the richest prize in world golf when he captured £25,000 for winning the John Player Trophy.
“I‘m delighted to be made an Honorary Life Member,” said O‘Connor. “It was a very pleasant surprise when I heard and it is a great honour.
“We had a lot of special days but the highlights for me were winning The Ryder Cup in 1957 and the World Cup in 1958. Also playing on the Tour outside Ireland for the first time in 1953 when I played the great Sir Henry Cotton in the semi-final of the Swallow Penfold Tournament and he beat me on the 23rd. But it was a huge thrill to take Henry that far and we became close friends.
“The great thing about golf is you meet so many wonderful people. And I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate George O‘Grady on taking over as the Executive Director of The European Tour.”
Panton, 88, turned professional 70 years ago in 1935. During an extraordinary playing career he represented Great Britain and Ireland in three Ryder Cup Matches – in 1951, 1953 and 1961 – and played 13 times for Scotland in the World Cup. Among his career highlights were victories in the British Match Play Championship in 1956 and, in 1967, he beat Sam Snead 3 and 2 in the final of the World Seniors Championship at Wallasey.
He continued to play at the highest level into his 50s, his performance in the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews standing out when, aged 53, he shot the lowest round of the final day in gale force winds to finish tied ninth behind Jack Nicklaus.
Away from tournament golf he was a committed and much respected club professional, based at Glenbervie Golf Club for almost 30 years before retiring in 1984. In 1988 he was made Honorary Professional to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
“It was a great surprise to receive this honour,” said Panton. “Golf has given me a wonderful life during which there have been plenty of highlights but winning the British Match Play and also beating Sam Snead at Wallasey to win the World Senior Championship are right up there along with the Open at St Andrews in 1970 when I shot the best round of the final day in a gale. You don‘t expect to receive awards such as this at my age and I feel very honoured.”
George O‘Grady, executive director of The European Tour, paid tribute to both players when he said: “The European Tour board of directors felt the election of these two players reflects their status among the most respected ambassadors in the world of golf during outstanding lifetime careers.
“Christy O‘Connor has been an inspirational golfing figure in Ireland, as has John Panton in Scotland, and their contribution to the game across Europe cannot be underestimated. We offer our congratulations and appreciation of their achievements.”
The election of O‘Connor and Panton to Honorary Life Membership brings the total number of players accorded Honorary Life Membership of The European Tour to 28.
Peter Alliss 2003
Severiano Ballesteros 1983
Peter Butler 1982
Bob Charles 1995
Neil Coles MBE 2004
Sir Henry Cotton MBE 1985 (deceased)
Fred Daly MBE 1985 (deceased)
Ernie Els 1998
Nick Faldo MBE 1987
Max Faulkner OBE 1985
Bernard Gallacher OBE 2003
Retief Goosen 2002
Bernard Hunt MBE 1978
Tony Jacklin OBE 1983
John Jacobs OBE 1978
Bernhard Langer 1985
Paul Lawrie MBE 1999
Sandy Lyle MBE 1985
Colin Montgomerie OBE 1997
Greg Norman 1999
Christy O‘Connor 2004
Josà© Maria Olazà¡bal 1994
Arnold Palmer 1995
John Panton 2004
Gary Player 1995
Dai Rees CBE 1978 (deceased)
Vijay Singh 2001
Ian Woosnam MBE 1992
European Tour www.europeantour.com