John O’Leary, the former Ryder Cup player, European Tour winner and member of the European Tour Board of Directors, has died at the age of 70.
The Irishman played on the European Tour for more than two decades, winning twice including famously at the 1982 Irish Open at Portmarnock Golf Club.
O’Leary turned professional in 1970, following an impressive amateur career which included a win in the South of Ireland Championship.
His rookie European Tour season came in 1972 and he made a total of 332 appearances on the tour, which included two wins. In 1975, O’Leary became the eighth player from the island of Ireland to play The Ryder Cup – playing four matches as Great Britain and Ireland were defeated at Laurel Valley Golf Club, Pennsylvania, USA.
His case for a place on Bernard Hunt’s Ryder Cup team was helped by his first professional victory earlier that year on the South Africa Tour’s Royal Swazi Sun Open, as well as a runner-up finish at the 1975 Open de France.
The Dubliner’s maiden European Tour triumph came a year later at the 1976 Greater Manchester Open, finishing three shots clear of South Africa’s John Fourie at Wilmslow Golf Club in Cheshire, England.
The crowning moment of his individual career, however, undoubtedly came at the 1982 Irish Open, when he became just the fourth Irishman to win the historic national open – overcoming Maurice Bembridge by one stroke at Portmarnock Golf Club, where the star-studded field included Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and O’Leary’s close friend Sam Torrance.
The next home win at an Irish Open would come exactly 25 years later, when three-time Major winner and current Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington lifted the trophy, a moment that filled O’Leary with great pride as he watched from the sidelines and presented the trophy.
O’Leary retired as a touring professional in 1989, but his contribution to the European Tour would not end there.
He had 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.
O’Leary, known for his friendly demeanor and storytelling, was credited as having played a significant part in bringing The Ryder Cup to Ireland for the first time in 2006, 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.”
Former Ryder Cup Captains Torrance and Paul McGinley among those to pay tribute to O’Leary after his passing
“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”... my first week on tour and the first words John Oleary said to me. Pure class RIP Johno https://t.co/2LjJO8qq9P— Peter Baker (@peterbakergolf) March 26, 2020
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 Jimmys passing - be lucky everybody in these uncertain times 🍀 pic.twitter.com/PJXSaJ0FtL— Paul McGinley (@mcginleygolf) March 26, 2020
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. @EuropeanTour— Padraig Harrington (@padraig_h) March 26, 2020
Very sad!— Thomas Bjorn (@thomasbjorngolf) March 26, 2020
John was always fantastic company.
Spoke to John not so long ago. Helped me at the start of my professional career. RIP J. 💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/2KH86jrs9T— Matt Wallace (@mattsjwallace) March 26, 2020
Very sad today to hear of the passing of John O’Leary, he was always such a great advocate of women’s golf. A man who would do anything to help anyone, I was lucky to have known him.— Henni Zuel (@hennizuel) March 26, 2020
When this is all over I’ll have a drink in The Albert for you Jonno!