O'Leary's place in the annals

Given that it is almost five years since John O'Leary last played a full round of golf, he has to content himself these days …

Given that it is almost five years since John O'Leary last played a full round of golf, he has to content himself these days largely with memories of his chosen pursuit. Still, he seems reluctant to take any special pride in being the last Irishman to win the Irish Open, which he did at Portmarnock in 1982.

Either way, the staging of the championship at Ballybunion next month will command his attention for another reason. "I happened to set the amateur course record there with a 69," he recalled when we met recently. "It was after I played in the Home Internationals at Killarney in 1969 and we went on to Ballybunion to play a scratch cup."

That was when the course started at the present sixth and ended with two par fives (now the fourth and fifth) - a routing which is being revived for the Irish Open. "I remember being disgusted with myself for failing to birdie either of the two finishing holes," O'Leary added.

Having turned 50 last August, it was expected that the Dubliner would return to action as a member of the European Seniors Tour. But it hasn't been possible because of continuing back problems.


"That's why I haven't been able to play since a Golf Foundation outing in October 1995," he explained. "My only activity has been giving short-game clinics."

O'Leary, professional at Buckinghamshire GC and a director of the PGA European Tour, underwent back surgery in 1991 and also had an operation on his hip last summer. "The back problem is still there and I am due to have further surgery in the autumn," he said. "If that goes well, I'm aiming to join the Seniors Tour next year." Meanwhile, there remains his special place in the history of the Irish Open. "Quite frankly, with all the success our players have had in recent years, I'm amazed they haven't pushed me into the background," he replied.

But was he not proud of his distinction? "I will always be remembered as an Irish Open winner, which is very gratifying," he replied. "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."

"FALDO said Monty liked `fat cheques' and, by implication accused the Scot of valuing money over major champion- ships, including the Open."

- From this week's Daily Mail revelations by Mark James, who, when I asked him in the Czech Republic in 1995 what he thought about Philip Walton's Ryder Cup prospects, replied: "I make it a policy not to comment on my fellow professionals."

Even four days on, I still find myself smiling at the thought of it. I'm referring to the serialisation of James' soon-to-be-published book, Into the Bear Pit. In it, James recalls the 1993 Ryder Cup matches when, apparently, Tony Jacklin and his family were guests at The Belfry.

James recalls: "One morning he (Jacklin) came in and blasted them (The Belfry staff) because the bacon on the breakfast table was overcooked. My wife and I could not believe it because he was a guest and the staff had been faultless. If he did not like it, he should have gone elsewhere and not kicked up a fuss . . ."

Absolutely. And James had the considerable advantage of knowing just how hurt people can be by such behaviour. Like the way Carrolls officials felt when he, a twice-former winner of their tournament, publicly slated them for their inability to supply a courtesy car for his wife, who wished to go into Dublin to do some shopping during the 1990 Irish Open at Portmarnock. As a measure of his displeasure, James, who had collected the not inconsiderable amount of £45,922 in prize money from Carrolls since his Irish Open debut in 1977, decided to absent himself from their tournament at Killarney in 1991 and 1992. Against that background, his remarks about Jacklin are quite hilarious.

Meanwhile, American scribes who warmed to him as a Ryder Cup captain of infinite jest at Brookline last September may take a somewhat different view after they have read what he says about their victorious team. Indeed the entire episode can best be described as a sorry mess, which greatly devalues the role of Ryder Cup captain.

Some fascinating happenings in the Bray O'Brien singles matchplay competition at Thurles GC are recounted in a letter from John O'Grady. He writes: "In the first round, John Kennedy played Michael O'Brien. When they came to the short fifth, John holes out his tee-shot.

"In the second round last week, John played Paddy Gleeson. As they walked to the same par-three, John remarked to Paddy: `I holed out here the last time.' After which he stepped up on the tee . . . and holed out again! I imagine that pulling off the feat in successive matchplay rounds at the same hole must be rather rare."

He concluded: "Tail-piece to a remarkable match: one-up playing the 17th, John bunkered his second and Paddy was about six feet from the pin. John holed the bunker-shot which meant Paddy had to sink the putt to keep the match alive. He did - and won on the 20th. Pity they didn't reach the 23rd."

As A postscript to his recent disqualification at The Belfry, Padraig Harrington may be interested to learn that he need never feel resentful about the incident. That is the view of Roberto de Vicenzo who was the victim of a celebrated scorecard error 32 years ago when, by signing for a four instead of a three on the 71st hole of the US Masters, he deprived himself of a play-off against Bob Goalby.

Like Harrington, the Argentinian won widespread admiration for gracious acceptance of a crushing disappointment. And after a recent, Seniors outing with Goalby, de Vicenzo said: "We played like old friends. Bob still feels like the Masters is not finished, but for me, the rule is clear. He is the winner and he deserves the credit."

He went on: "It still gives me good memories. I still remember how I played this hole and that hole and how people don't believe that I enjoyed it. Thirty-two years is too long to be sad."

Last weekend at Wentworth we had just about every conceivable delay, but not the one experienced in the recent Westchester PGA Championship in New York. Not content to let Mother Nature dominate such matters, man decided to take a hand. So we had police delays. What delays? Police delays.

Two local professionals were halfway through their 36-hole match when local police ordered that the course be closed down. The belief was that two criminals, who had broken into a nearby house, pistol-whipped one of the occupants and then fled when a shot was fired and the homeowner escaped, were hiding out on the course.

As a consequence, the players had to return the next day to finish their match. Meanwhile, police continued their search for the suspects who, witnesses confirmed, did cross the course. In fact they were seen running past a group of women golfers who, while prepared for just about anything from their male colleagues, hadn't quite bargained for this. An interesting variation of the shotgun start, you might say.

Teaser: This one is prompted by events at Wentworth last weekend. In strokeplay, A plays a stroke from the teeing ground and the competition is at that point suspended. May B, A's fellow-competitor, also play from the teeing ground, even though play has been suspended?

Answer: Yes. When A played from the teeing ground, play had commenced for that hole and thus, A and B may continue play of the hole provided they do so without delay and then discontinue player either before or immediately after completing it.