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To many juniors, O’Connor was guiding force

‘Pippy’s Kids’ have night to say thanks

Pippy Rooney had a great swing even in her wedding dress, as she showed new husband Robert O’Connor at Harvard Club. Pippy Rooney had a great swing even in her wedding dress, as she showed new husband Robert O’Connor at Harvard Club. (1963 File/The Boston Globe)
By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / June 17, 2010

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Years ago, as a junior playing in tournaments against older women, Noreen Mohler was familiar with the look — that “What are you doing here?’’ glare young players, boys and girls, sometimes receive from skeptical adults. Never, Mohler said, did she get that sense from Pippy Rooney O’Connor. Quite the contrary.

“Pippy always went out of her way just to say, ‘You girls should play in more of these events, and it’s great to have you.’ And if she didn’t know you she’d come up and introduce herself,’’ said Mohler. “She just loves juniors, supports them, and makes a way for them. She’s a very special lady.’’

Hundreds of former junior golfers — many consider themselves “Pippy’s Kids’’ — share those thoughts about O’Connor, and will have the opportunity to celebrate the influence she’s made at an event in her honor June 24 at Charles River Country Club. The tribute begins at 6 p.m., and is open to the public.

“It’s well deserved,’’ said Harry McCracken, a longtime Charles River member who has known O’Connor for more than 60 years. “Her greatest claim to fame is all the time she spent with those kids.’’

O’Connor has been involved with junior golf in a number of capacities. She started the junior program at Charles River, coordinated the Independent School League tournament for a number of years, taught at Noble & Greenough, where she coached the girls’ golf team, and was an avid supporter of the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts and its many tournaments. If you were a junior golfer in Massachusetts, especially if you were a girl, chances are you encountered O’Connor.

She was a formidable player, too. O’Connor won the WGAM’s junior championship in 1947, when she was 17, and the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur in 1955. She also played in a handful of LPGA events in the early 1950s, when she was trying to decide if she wanted to become a professional and give tour life a try.

She eventually passed on the LPGA, and it was junior golf in Massachusetts where she made the biggest impact. The list of people she’s mentored and helped teach the game is impressive; besides Mohler, who captained the US Curtis Cup team to victory last week, O’Connor has also assisted Pat Bradley, Alison Walshe, Chelsea Curtis, Jeanne Marie Boylan, Claire Sheldon, and James Driscoll of the PGA Tour, among many others.

O’Connor married and has two sons and two grandchildren. Her health and memory aren’t great; she’s suffered a series of small strokes recently, but is expected to be at the upcoming tribute. Proceeds from the event will go toward the Pippy O’Connor Junior Program Fund at the WGAM.

“The fun thing about Pippy, she was always willing to tell a story about something, and everything was junior golf. It was her heart and soul,’’ said Terry Wappel, president of the WGAM.

Three years ago, Mohler, who has lived in Pennsylvania for more than 30 years, played in a US Golf Association qualifier at The Country Club. O’Connor was the tournament starter, greeting players at the first tee.

“I hadn’t seen her in years and she didn’t know my married name, but she said, ‘Noreen, is that you?’ She remembered,’’ Mohler said. “She’s always been about junior golf, and she always followed us along, which was very encouraging.’’

A donation of $85 for the June 24 tribute ($50 for juniors under age 25) is requested. To RSVP, call Mary Joe Clark at 781-235-2969. Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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