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Northern Ireland man Niall on how 1951 Open hero's golf shoes walked into his life

By Angela Rainey

A golf fan from Northern Ireland has revealed how a valuable piece of Open history ended up in his attic.

Golf shoes owned and signed by Max Faulkner, who won The Open at Royal Portrush in 1951, were given by a punter to Niall O'Boyle's late father James to be displayed in his bar that same year.

James owned Jimmy O'Boyle's, also known as The Shamrock Bar, in Coleraine from 1940 to 1979 and turned it into a treasure trove of curiosities from around the world.

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And as the Major tournament arrived just up the road, Mr O'Boyle snr seized his chance to add to his collection.

"My dad wasn't into golf as such but collected all sorts for display in the bar," said Niall as as the world's top players tee off at Royal Troon today.

"He had everything from boomerangs to a blunderbuss - it was like a curiosity shop where you could get a pint.

"A man who used to drink in my dad's bar, a Mr McGonagle, was Max Faulkner's caddy for the competition and my dad asked him to bring him some souvenirs from the competition for display in the bar.

"So he arrived in one day with a pair of shoes, a programme with around 50 signatures on it and a golf ball.

"I don't think he was paid for them as such, they were probably exchanged for a few bottles of Guinness and cigarettes, as it was in those days."

The navy and white leather size nine shoes were later signed by Faulkner after he visited Portrush 15 years ago to see his son-in-law Brian Barnes, also a professional golfer, play.

"I knew Max was over so I took the shoes and said: 'Excuse me sir, would you mind signing these please?'" explained Niall.

"I told him they were once his. He looked at them but didn't say much, but he took the pen and was happy to sign them."

The trio of items, which took pride of place behind the bar for nearly 30 years, are now in a safe - the programme alone was valued at a staggering £17,000 in 2008.

Mr O'Boyle, who plays golf at Portstewart with a handicap of 22, said a collector of programmes wanted to buy it from him but he would have rather sold the three items as a package.

After his father's bar closed in 1979 Niall was given the shoes and recreated his father's pub in the attic of his Portstewart home. Although he formally retired six years ago, he just couldn't stay away from the pub trade and now works part-time at the Bushmills Inn.

He said he will be rooting for one of our homegrown talents to win The Open.

"I am hoping to hold on to the shoes, programme and ball until The Open is back in Portrush in two years' time," he added.

"I've no idea of their worth but they are now kept under lock and key. But I am looking forward to watching The Open - the links course will serve our golfers well and of course I'll be cheering on local man Graeme McDowell, as well as Rory McIlroy (below) and Darren Clarke."

Faulkner won The Open in 1951 and played in the Ryder Cup five times, including the historic 1957 contest at Lindrick when Great Britain won for the only time between 1933 and 1985.

He was known for his colourful dress sense, and was rumoured to have more than 300 putters instead of a conventional set of clubs with a variety of shaft lengths and flexes.

He died in 2005 aged 88.

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