The Ryder Cup Captaincy foursome of Padraig Harrington, Sam Torrance, Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn have led the tributes at the passing of Irish golfing legend, John O’Leary who passed away earlier today after a long illness.
The Dubliner turned professional in 1970 and a year later, in his first full season, he made the cut in The Open at Royal Birkdale. O’Leary won four times in his pro career including two victories on the European Tour highlighted with his triumph in the 1982 Irish Open at Portmarnock.
There to congratulate O’Leary was Scotland’s Sam Torrance who was not only the defending champion but was residing that week with O’Leary. Torrance posted a tribute Tweet saying: “So sad to hear of the passing of one my dearest friends and roommate for 10 years on tour RTIP my old pal John O’Leary.”
Fellow good friend, Paul McGinley, still getting over the loss earlier this year of his long-time caddy, James ‘Edinburgh Jimmy’ Rae, also tweeted his sadness.
“More sad news in the passing of my friend and fellow Irishman ‘Jonno‘ O’Leary – always a dedicated follower of fashion and all round great guy – what a year 2020 has been so far starting on Jan 2 with Edinburgh Jimmy’s passing – be lucky everybody in these uncertain times,” said McGinley.
In winning the 1982 Irish Open, O’Leary became the first ‘home’ player since Christy O’Connor won the event in 1975 and when Padraig Harrington captured the 2007 Irish Open at Adare Manor, there’s a wonderful photograph of O’Leary being among the first to congratulate Harrington and later being also photographed with Harrington at the presentation ceremony.
Harrington paid tribute to O’Leary saying via his Twitter account: “So sorry to hear of the passing of a legend of Irish golf John O’Leary. He always had a kind word to say and gave you advice without preaching. He was a larger than life character whose stories will live on. May he Rest In Peace. “
Also paying tribute was Bjorn, who steered Europe to a stunning Versailles victory in 2018.
Bjorn said: “Very sad! John was always fantastic company. RIP”
O’Leary capped his very colourful professional career in 1975 in representing GB&I in the biennial Ryder Cup in Arnold Palmer’s backyard at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania though O’Leary’s selection in a Bernard Hunt led side to take on the might of Palmer’s Americans was not as simple as one would expect.
In the weeks prior to selection, O’Leary finished runner-up in the French Open and then in teaming with Aussie Jack Newton, he won the Sumrie-Bournemouth Better-Ball.
However, in February 1975, and while he was in South Africa, O’Leary received a £500 fine and a one-year ban from representing any PGA team, a ban that ruled him out of the 1975 Ryder Cup.
The ban followed complaints about his conduct in an event in Jamaica in late 1974.
O’Leary appealed and the one-year ban was lifted, although the £500 fine stood. In the 1975 qualifying process, the leading eight GB & I team members on the Tour money-list were automatic picks while the remaining four were ‘wildcard’ picks.
O’Leary finished sixth on the money list but the joy of being selected would be short-lived with Hunt’s team getting smacked by 21 to 11 points, and O’Leary losing all four matches including his Sunday Singles against Hale Irwin.
O’Leary put that disappointment aside to capture his first Tour win a year later by four shots at the Greater Manchester Open.
He retired from full-time competition in 1989 but continued playing a handful of events and with the last of O’Leary’s 392 European Tour events being appropriately the 1992 Irish Open at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club.
In those near 400-events, O’Leary won twice, recorded four seconds, three third-place results along with 32 other top-10s while he made the halfway cut in 237 events.
He contested just the one Major in his career and that was The Open teeing-up, as mentioned earlier, for a first time in 1971 and then playing the last of a dozen Opens in 1987.
In team competition he very proudly not only represented Ireland at the 1975 Ryder Cup but also represented Ireland in each of the following events:
* World Cup -1972, 1980, 1982
* Double Diamond International – 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977
* Marlboro Nations’ Cup/Philip Morris International – 1972, 1973, 1975
* Hennessy Cognac Cup – 1976 (winners), 1978 (winners), 1982 (winners)
However, O’Leary was not about to sit idle in retirement as he joined his former mentor John Jacobs – regarded as the founding father of the European Tour – on the Board of Directors in 1985, having previously chaired the Tournament Players Committee during his playing career.
He sat in his last Board meeting in March 2019.
And O’Leary, known for his friendly demeanor and storytelling, felt rightfully proud of his contribution when it was announced the 2006 Ryder Cup would be heading to Ireland for a first time, when The K Club hosted a European triumph under the captaincy of Ian Woosnam.
Keith Pelley, European Tour Chief Executive, said: “John made a huge contribution to the evolution of the European Tour, firstly as a successful player and then as a long-serving member of the Tour’s Board of Directors.
“Above all he loved our game. That’s the one thing I always remember about John – how much he loved golf and what it gave him and his family. He was always telling stories and he was a true ambassador for our sport. We will sorely miss him, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam