O'Leary sees rosy future for Irish Open

By Brian Keogh

John O'Leary watched Padraig Harrington crowned as Irish Open king and predicted a massive future for the Irish Open.

The 1982 winner is convinced that Harrington's historic victory signals a bright new dawn for the event.

After sending Harrington a 'Just Do It' message before the off, O'Leary was delighted to shake off the tag of last Irishman to win the Irish Open.

He said: "The No1 player in Europe, Irish, winning the Irish Open is very, very significant indeed.

"With the event to be held for another two years here at this fantastic venue, it will be a tremendous boost for the tournament."

Harrington and Lee Westwood were the only top 50 players in the field but O'Leary is looking forward to seeing a constellation of stars next year.

And he has no fears for the future beyond 2009 with top businessman backing Adare Manor owner Tom Kane in his bid to make the Irish Open a huge success

Without naming JP McManus or Dermot Desmond, O'Leary said: "There are some very serious people that have supported not just the Irish Open but many other great courses in this country. And I think you can take it that those people will never see this tournament die."

The 1982 winner once described the title of last Irishman to win the Irish Open as "a pain in the neck" for every Irish professional for the last 25 years.

Now that his reign is finally over, O'Leary is delighted that Irish golf fans have a new hero to worship.

He said: "I've had my time and they were special times. For the people who have made this great golfing country, they deserve a day out."

O'Leary will never forget gutted he was to lose the 1978 Irish Open to Ken Brown after leading for 70 of the 72 holes

He recalled: "When the chance came again in '82 it was an enormous relief really, having had such an enormous chance.

"I remember I always stayed with my parents in Blackrock and I remember driving to the golf course with my mother in Sunday and getting to the bridge at Royal Dublin.

"The crowds were so big we had to get a police escort for the last six or seven miles to Portmarnock.

"My mother recalled afterwards that I never opened my mouth from the time I left the house in Blackrock to actually getting out of the car."

O'Leary closed with a 73 that August day to beat Maurice Bembridge by a shot and leave future major winners Nick Faldo and Greg Norman tied for third.

Harrington is not quite a major winner yet but O'Leary believes he is still a giant in the game, both on and off the course.

The two spoke at a Saturday night player's barbecue at Adare Manor and O'Leary was impressed with Harrington's behaviour and they way he made himself available to all.

He said: "You couldn't have a better No 1 to represent the game on and off the course.

"I left him a message before he went out. 'You're Europe's No 1. Just do it.'"

And Harrington delivered.