Former Irish Open champion John O'Leary passes away

John O'Leary in action during the 1982 Irish Open. Photo: INPHO / Billy Stickland
John O'Leary in action during the 1982 Irish Open. Photo: INPHO / Billy Stickland

European golf veterans have been expressing their sadness for the passing of former Irish Open champion John O’Leary, who has died at the age of 70 following a long illness.

Dubliner O’Leary won the national open at Portmarnock in 1982, the first home player to do so since Christy O’Connor won in 1975 and it would be another 25 years before the feat was repeated when Padraig Harrington won at Adare in 2007.

Padraig Harrington is congratulated by John O'Leary after winning the 2007 Irish Open at Adare Manor. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington is congratulated by John O'Leary after winning the 2007 Irish Open at Adare Manor. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Former Ryder Cup captains Sam Torrance and Paul McGinley both tweeted their reactions to the news of O’Leary’s passing.

Torrance wrote: “So sad to hear of the passing of one of my dearest friends and roommate for 10 years on tour. RIP my old pal John O’Leary.”

And McGinley tweeted: "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.”

“So sorry to hear of the passing of a legend of Irish golf John O’Leary,” tweeted current Ryder Cup captain Harrington. “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.”

O’Leary’s open and friendly nature was endorsed by another pro Peter Baker who recalled the first words the Irishman said to him during his first week on Tour: “If you need anything or if I can help you just ask me. I’m sure that you are going to have a great career.”

“Pure class RIP Johno,” Baker tweeted while current pro Matt Wallace shared a text exchange initiated by O’Leary. “Swing looks great,” he had told the Englishman, unsolicited.

Former pro DJ Russell wrote: “Sorry to hear John O’Leary has passed away after a long illness, so many happy memories, RIP Johno.”

Earlier in his career, aged 26, O’Leary played in the 1975 Ryder Cup, as Britain and Ireland fell to a ten-point defeat at Laurel Valley, Pennsylvania.

He won the Royal Swazi Open in South Africa that year, and followed it up with victory in the Greater Manchester Open in 1976.

O’Leary took up golf aged 12 when on a family holiday to Butlin’s, at Mosney, Co Meath, and by 15 was down to scratch. He turned professional in 1970 after winning the 1970 South of Ireland Amateur Championship, having finished as runner-up in the Irish Amateur Close the year before.

He also represented Ireland in the European Amateur Team Championship and the World Cup.

His career on the European Tour included 332 appearances as a player through to his retirement after the 1989 season.

He chaired the Tournament Players Committee and subsequently served on the European Tour’s Board of Directors, helping to bring the Ryder Cup to Ireland in 2006.

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley praised O’Leary for his contribution on and off the course.

“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 told europeantour.com.

“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.”

O’Leary's talent for golf was harnessed in south Dublin at Foxrock, whose general manager Sean Finnegan told the Irish Examiner: “It’s very sad.

“We celebrated our 125th anniversary at the club in 2018 and one of the features was having John O’Leary over for a night with the members to reminisce and tell stories and it was a wonderful, wonderful night.

“It was my first time meeting him and also for a lot of our newer members given he had lived in Buckinghamshire for a long time. Even though we would associate him with Foxrock it had been many years since he had been there and we had a wonderful evening together. I was delighted to have met him. He told us that night that he wasn’t in great health but he was in good form and it still comes as a shock. He was one of life’s gentlemen, a very mild-mannered man with some wonderful stories to share.”

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