Lives Remembered

John O'Leary: Irish Open winner and dedicated follower of fashion

Dubliner John O'Leary won the Irish Open in 1982. It would be 25 years before the event would have another home-grown winner, Padraig Harrington

THE death of John O'Leary last week recalls a time in the late 1960s when he defied golf fashion trends by wearing outlandish garb while competing on the Royal Portrush links.

The teenager from the Foxrock club in Dublin also raised eyebrows with his outstanding long striking skills during the North of Ireland amateur Open championship

The new kid, a straight-backed six-footer with an explosion of bushy fuzzy hair, shocked the sniffy conservative outlook of the time with an outrageous multi-coloured outfit.

He wore wide bell-bottom trousers that had one leg parading a black and white design - and the other leg in a different pattern.

O'Leary might have looked out of place, his kit more in keeping with a that of a court jester, but how he could play the game.

In July 1968, he shocked almost everyone he met in head-to-head combat on the Dunluce links, apart from shrewd Shandon Park swinger Michael Hoey, uncle of the European professional of the same name. O'Leary was edged out in the North final by one hole.

He also lost the 1969 Irish Close final by one hole, and in 1970 had mixed reward, losing in the West of Ireland amateur final at Rosses Point but then winning the South of Ireland title.

That same season he turned professional - yet never achieved the rewards to match his talent.

The reason he disappeared from competitive golf was near-crippling injuries in 1983.

One year after his big breakthrough, winning the Murphy's Irish Open at Portmarnock, he was seriously injured in a car crash on the way from his home at Esher, Surrey.

The gentle giant was never to play serious golf again. His impressive wide swing was curtailed by a serious back complaint.

O'Leary, who never lost his cultured soft south Dublin accent, notched his first success in the paid ranks on South Africa's Sunshine Tour in 1975 - a few weeks after coming close in two major events when overtaken on the closing holes by local icon Gary Player.

Also a winner of the Greater Manchester Open, he secured a spot in the 1975 GB and Ireland Ryder Cup team that was walloped 21-11 by an Arnold Palmer-skippered USA at Laurel Valley, Pennsylvania.

Following his enforced fade from PGA European competition the popular and highly respected O'Leary joined his old playing pal David Jones of Bangor as a director on the PGA Board and also was a member of the PGA's Ryder Cup Committee.

He died aged 70 on March 26.

Denis O'Hara

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Lives Remembered