University of St. Francis women’s golf coach O’Connor dies
By Dick Goss email@example.com December 10, 2012 8:46PM
Updated: January 12, 2013 6:12AM
The more Paul Downey talked about his longtime friend Tom O’Connor, the more choked up he got.
Yet, he was able to laugh.
“Tom was always upbeat, always looked at the positives,” Downey said of O’Connor, the women’s golf coach at University of St. Francis who died Sunday at the age of 70. “He tried to get the best out of his pupils.
“This is really devastating.”
Downey is the USF men’s golf coach, and he approached O’Connor for help with his game.
“I never met anybody like Tom,” he said. “He was always willing to help. He was genuine.
“Well, except for that time ... he told me my golf swing was helpless. He said, ‘You’re pigeon-toed. I don’t know what to tell you.’ Then he told me I must not be doing too bad if a 70-year-old man can hit a ball 300 yards.”
Downey, who turned 70 in November, cherishes memories such as those and called O’Connor “a great friend, a tremendous person and an outstanding coach and teacher. He really loved those girls at St. Francis. He felt that was his calling.”
Among St. Francis’ top players this season is Lockport graduate Krystal Garritsen, a freshman whom O’Connor tutored for 15 years.
“Tom O’Connor has been an inspiration to everybody,” Garritsen said. “His positive influence throughout the community has touched the hearts of many.
“His impact in the golf world and at the University of St. Francis will live on forever. His passion for the game and his team was an unselfish journey he enjoyed taking. We will never forget everything he has done for us and the game of golf.”
Her comments reflect the feelings of the entire Joliet area golf community.
“I will never forget when Tom applied for the position here,” USF director of athletics Dave Laketa said. “He wanted it so bad that I think he had everyone who ever received a lesson from him contact me. That was a lot of phone calls — I think from everyone that had ever picked up a golf club in Joliet. I knew we couldn’t go wrong in hiring Tom with that backing.”
O’Connor was the USF women’s coach the past 10 years — his final team won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and finished 33rd nationally — and spent more than four decades teaching and promoting golf in the Joliet area.
He was director of instruction at his golf academies at Broken Arrow Golf Club (1997 to 2010) and Inwood (2010 to 2012). He was head teaching professional at Inwood from 1986 through 1988. Other stops in his career included Cog Hill (teaching professional, 1989 to ’96) and the Joliet Golf Center (director of golf/owner, 1976 to ’85). He also worked in New York, South Carolina, California and Missouri during his 46-year career.
Among O’Connor’s highlights as a player was winning the 1996 IPGA Senior Stroke Play title at Timber Trails. In 2009, the Illinois PGA presented him with its Bill Heald Career Achievement Award for his service to the game, in particular his success as a teacher of the sport.
A Class A PGA member for 36 years and a former Senior PGA Tour associate member for seven years, O’Connor wrote a weekly golf tips article for the Herald-News, published articles for Publinks and Player Magazine and hosted talk shows on WJOL Radio and on cable television for Media One. He also was a frequent guest on Fox Television’s weekly Golf Scene show and on ESPN Radio’s golf talk program.
For 16 years, he served as a WJOL correspondent at the Western Open and for nine years he previewed the Western Open for Continental Cable.
O’Connor, who lived in Shorewood, is survived by his children, Becky, Terry and Jackie, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Virginia O’Connor, Tom’s wife of 39 years, died a little more than a year ago.
“Virginia and Tom are now back together in heaven,” Laketa said.
Visitation will be from 2 until 8 p.m. Thursday at Fred C. Dame Funeral Home, 3200 Back Rd., with funeral services to begin at 8 p.m.