John O Leary is always remembered as the last home player to win the Irish Open.

But 19 years have passed since that glorious afternoon at Portmarnock and O'Leary is keen to see some new Irish golfing lore created - in the Ryder Cup in 2005.

"It s going to be tremendous,” he told me this week. "Ireland is such a terrific venue for golf and Irish people are so enthusiastic that I have no doubt that It's going to be a very memorable event. No doubt at all.”

One of the original European Tour diehards, O'Leary is now a member of ther Board of Directors of the money-spinning golf circus.

And it's partly thanks the Dubliner that the K Club is getting a chance to stage the greatest team event in golf at the luxurious Liffeyside venue in four years time.

As a member of the Ryder Cup board, O'Leary supported Ireland s bid to stage what is arguably the greatest show in professional golf.

And although he played in the event once himself, in 1975, this will very much be O'Leary's Ryder Cup.

After giving his life to golf as a player and administrator, injury has forced O Leary to accept that he is now entering the twilight days of his career as a player.

But he still takes great pleasure form watching the incredible growth of the game in his native country.

"Watching the AIB Irish Seniors Open on TV the other day was great to see. It's a great tournament and the atmosphere there at Powerscourt was a wonderful advertisement for Ireland as a golfing venue,” he said. "It's a great new facility and a tournament with a great sponsor in AIB, who will be involved in the Ryder Cup at the K Club.

"I think it said a lot about the Irish way of enjoying golf. And that s important because those pictures were seen all over the world.”

Obliged to move to England over 25 years ago as he chased the big money tournaments on tour, O'Leary was one of the most flamboyant and colourful players of the seventies and eighties.

But the bright red trousers and outrageously patterned sweaters are probably deep in mothballs now as the 51 year-old Dubliner battles to come back from crippling back and hip problems.

It s been five years since the famous O'Leary mullet hairstyle graced the fairways. And if he is to resurrect his career this time on the European Seniors Tour he will have to undergo surgery for the fourth time later this year.

The Dubliner said: "I've had three operations on my back and my hip but I haven t been able to play any golf for over five years.

"I'll wait until after the Ryder Cup to have another operation and put things right but this probably be my last chance at playing competitive golf again.

"If I can get myself right then I ll definitely try and play on the European Seniors Tour next season but we'll just have to wait and see how things go in the autumn.”

Despite the acheivements of generations of Irish players from the Christy O'Connor and Eamonn Darcy to Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, O'Leary's Irish Open win of 1982 still holds its magic for the Irish golfing public.

Now a professional at the Buckinghamshire, O'Leary admits that he is amazed that he still holds such a special place in the history of the Irish Open.

The 6 1" former champion champion said: "Quite frankly, with all the success our players have had in recent years, I'm amazed they haven't pushed me into the background.

"I will always be remembered as an Irish Open winner, which is very gratifying. But I have no great wish to remain the last Irishman to do so. That's something which should have passed into other hands a long time ago.

"There is no shortge of quality players when you see the likes of Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington, so I think It's only a matter of time before one of them wins an Irish Open. McGinley at the moment is playing the most fantastic golf.”

After getting hooked on the game as a 12 year-old on a family holiday in Butlins, big John spent all his summers on the golf course, getting down to scratch within four years.

By the age of 20 he had turned pro and spent six months in America before joining the European Tour in 1971.

Although he never won consistently enough to breakthrough into the big time, O Leary was one of the top Irish performers in continental golf for many years.

His best season from a ranking point of view came in 1976 when he won he Greater Manchester Open, eventually finishing 16th in the Money List behind No 1 Seve Ballesteros.

In 1978 he tied with the mercurial Spaniard for second behind Ken Brown at Portmarnock in 1978, before finally made his big breakthrough in 1982 by winning with the Carroll's Irish Open to huge local acclaim at Portmarnock.

But the soft-spoken family man is still incredibly modest about that achievement.

"I never really think about it, only when people like yourself remind me of it,” he said. "It really was wonderful but it was such a long time ago that I can t really believe that people still remember it.”

Had it not been for injury O Leary might well have challenged Messers Lyle, Faldo, Langer and Ballesteros for an elite place in the annals of European golf.

But for his swashbuckling win at Portmarnock and his help in bringing the Ryder Cup to the K Club O Leary will always be regarded as Ireland s champion.

 

Spit and brass

Who said a caddie's life was easy.

When carrying the bag for Jamican Delroy Cambridge in the Pro-Am at last week's Irish Seniors Open at Powerscourt, a local bag-carrier used spit and elbow grease to clean the golf balls instead of a damp towel.

The big-hitting Jamican was not amused and sacked the offender on the spot.

Worse was to follow. The unhappy local may have missed out on a handsome tip as Cambridge went on to finish joint fifth in the tournament and pick up a fat cheque for £10,000.

 

 

Gary's woe

Gary Cullen won't be swapping his putter for a two-iron.

But the 6 5” giant from Baldoyle might have been tempted to go for a radical change after using the long iron on the greens during last week's Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin.

Champion in 1999, Cullen abandoned his putter for ‘misbehaviour during in his second round and switched to his two-iron instead.

The result? He holed a 30 footer for eagle two on the 265-yard 16th but still missd the cut by three shots.

 

Murphy's Moolah

Big bucks will be on offer at this year's Murphy's Irish Open at Fota Island.

With a prize fund of £1,260,000 - up £80,000 on last year - the winner will pick up a cool £200,000 for four days work.

 

 

Fox chase

It's crunch time for Walker Cup hopeful Noel Fox.

Insiders believe that only two Irishmen will be in the side to play the Americans in Georgia in August.

And with Graeme McDowell a virtual certainty,  it looks like a straightforward fight between Fox and Michael Hoey for the other place in the side.

But with Hoey reaching the final of the West and losing only in a play-off for the Irish Amateur Open last weekend, the Portmarnock may have to win a big one to get back into contention.

His chance could come in the Brabazon Trophy at Birkdale this weekend or the St Andrews Links Trophy at the Home of Golf from May 26-27.