Christy O'Connor will never forget the emotion he felt the last time he was at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia. He will always remember the sadness coupled with remarkable joy that marked his victory in last year's State Farm Senior Classic, a victory that came only 10 months after the death of his 17-year-old son in an automobile accident.
Back at Hobbit's Glen for the tournament's Media Day yesterday, O'Connor intermingled smiles and laughs with slight flinches when he talked about the feelings that went along with his one-shot victory over Bruce Fleisher.
"It came after a disaster in my family," the Irishman said of last year's performance, "but it gave me a massive will to go on living and certainly to go on playing."
If it hadn't been overshadowed by the tragedy, the story of O' Connor's marvelous three days would have been heroic. Playing in the event only because of a sponsor's exemption, O'Connor refused to let the opportunity slip by.
He shot rounds of 65-66-67 -- 198 to hold the lead from start to finish, earning him the right to play the Senior Tour for the rest of the year (to that point he had been relying on tournament invitations), as well as $195,000. But for O'Connor, it provided some closure to one part of his life and an opening to another.
This year, the task will be just as difficult, as O'Connor will be up against the likes of Gary Player, Larry Nelson, Dave Stockton and Gary McCord .
Sandwiched in between the U.S. Senior Open (played at nearby Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.) and the Ford Senior Players Championship, the State Farm would seem like a logical week for the pros to take off. But the field will feature six of the top 10 money winners this year, and 17 of the top 25.
"It's the kind of golf course where you've got to use all 14 clubs in the bag," said O'Connor, who claimed another title at the Foremost Insurance Open later last year. "But those pros wouldn't come here if the event wasn't just a terrific week, too."
O'Connor, for one, is hoping for another terrific week this year - and one that isn't bittersweet.
"This was the making of my senior life," he said.