Ken Brown pays tribute to ‘really good fella’ John O’Leary

The recent passing of golfer John O’Leary, 70, was marked with tributes from throughout the sport, but nobody encapsulated the affection for the former Irish Open champion as perfectly as his old friend and European Tour colleague Ken Brown.
Ken Brown pays tribute to ‘really good fella’ John O’Leary

The recent passing of golfer John O’Leary, 70, was marked with tributes from throughout the sport, but nobody encapsulated the affection for the former Irish Open champion as perfectly as his old friend and European Tour colleague Ken Brown.

Brown’s tweet was accompanied by a picture of the flamboyantly dressed and curly-mopped O’Leary resplendent in green-and-yellow trousers, splashing out of a sand trap. It hit all the right notes. Brown, a five-time Ryder Cupper and BBC commentator, expanded on the theme when the Irish Examiner spoke to him this week.

“John was a really good fella. He was playing the Tour when I first played (in 1976) and the Tour was in such a different place then than it is now, in so many different ways. We were decent golfers trying to hustle a living out of it and John was one of the first to sort of turn the corner and make it a bit more glamorous”, Brown said.

“Prior to that, really, it was club golfers (apart from Neil Coles, who had two jobs): three days of playing golf for a living, then back to their club on a Sunday. We broke away in the mid-70s and a few Australians came over, Jack Newton, Graham Marsh, and Ian Stanley; some South Africans, Harold Henning and Dale Hayes; players like that; and the whole tournament scene changed completely. There were some exciting personalities and John was certainly one of those. He and Sam Torrance had tales to tell, way beyond mine”, Brown said.

What Brown did have in common with O’Leary and Torrance was an Irish Open victory. He won it in 1978, fellow Scot Torrance did in 1981, and O’Leary, on home soil, a year later.

“When I won that year, at Portmarnock, John and I stood on the 18th tee, tied. I managed to hit the most miraculous par and he dropped a stroke. Seve was second with John, and I won it. I was only 21, so it was a massive moment in my career”, Brown said.

“There weren’t many people pulling for me: if it was either Seve or John O’Leary or Ken Brown, there wasn’t a lot of choice. The Irish Open was right at its zenith back then, 20,000 people a day coming over the fences, up through the beach, and if Seve was in town… The Carroll’s Irish Open was as big as The Open, as far as interest and crowds and excitement, and it was at Portmarnock, which is an absolute stunner of a course. The Irish Open is still one of the best tournaments on the Tour, but in those days, it would have gone Open, Irish Open, BMW PGA, or whatever it was called back then: the Colgate. They were the best three events”, he said.

- You can read the full interview with Ken Brown in tomorrow’’s Examiner Sport.

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