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The Open: Dream to hand Claret Jug to Darren, Rory or G-Mac, says Portrush captain Robert Barry

Our Sporting Lives And Times: Robert Barry

On course: Royal Portrush captain Robert Barry at the course this week ahead of the Open Championship
On course: Royal Portrush captain Robert Barry at the course this week ahead of the Open Championship
Legend: Seve Ballesteros
Robert Barry

By Steven Beacom

Robert Barry is a Leeds United supporter who loves Thin Lizzy and starts his mornings with a swim in open water.

He is also the captain of Royal Portrush Golf Club and as such has a hugely important task to undertake next Sunday.

For a few seconds on July 21, the 55-year-old born in Belfast and brought up in Portstewart will have the eyes of the world on him as he presents the winner of the 2019 Open Championship with the famous Claret Jug.

The dream ticket for Robert would be to hand over one of the most iconic trophies in sport to a homegrown hero - Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke or Graeme McDowell - though regardless of who triumphs the geologist will do the honours with an enormous sense of pride.

An engaging family man with a warm sense of humour, he jokes: "The captain of the host club hands over the Claret Jug to the winner. If for some reason the person handing over the trophy becomes the centre of attention something has gone badly wrong."

Robert adds: "I haven't gone through any rehearsals yet. I've seen it happen in previous years and it really is just a case of lifting it from the table it is on, shaking the hand of the winner and giving it to him and all the attention will then be on the Open champion.

"I'm absolutely chuffed about it. I would suggest I'll be very nervous but afterwards only my family and friends will remember my part in the presentation. Hopefully it will be done and dusted quite quickly and the focus will be on the individual who wins.

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"The dream would be if any of Graeme, Darren or Rory were victorious though given my hair is quite long handing it over to Tommy Fleetwood might make a good photograph!"

Timing is crucial in golf. So too in life. Just a few months ago with the biggest sporting event ever to come to Northern Ireland on the horizon Robert was given the nod to be captain of the Portrush club. It's an indication of the respect he holds amongst fellow members.

"The term of office starts after the Annual General Meeting which is held at the end of April," says Barry who became a student member at Royal Portrush in 1982.

"Individuals are asked prior to Christmas would they be interested in having their name put forward to a meeting of past captains and then they make a selection for the particular year.

"It is a great honour that they thought I wouldn't let the club down. I'm very humbled by it to be honest and feel proud about it. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I'm only two months into it. It has been pretty busy so far and a lot of fun."

In the coming week the father of three will host various lunches, attend functions organised by the R & A and of course watch a lot of golf courtesy of his access all areas pass.

Robert enjoyed an outdoor and sporting upbringing with brothers Angus and Patrick and sister Kyla. Late dad Ron, a member of Royal Portrush and past captain of Royal County Down, and mum Rona were both keen golfers.

Husband to Sam and dad to Caitlin (24), Erin (22) and Ella (16), the 13 handicapper is confident that both players and the thousands of spectators attending this year's Open Championship will be blown away by what Portrush has to offer - and he's not talking about the weather.

"The players will find a very, very interesting golf course. I'm not sure many will have played on one as undulating as the Dunluce links. Of course they will face some varying weather conditions but I think they will enjoy the challenge. I also believe it will be a great experience for them because we will have a fantastic atmosphere," says Robert, who recently attended daughter Erin's graduation at Stanford University in America where Tiger Woods and Tom Watson studied.

"For all those in attendance seeing great players like Rory, Graeme, Darren, Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and the rest on the course will be a wonderful experience.

"I think there will be a lot of people attending a golf tournament for the first time and everyone will be gobsmacked because the views of the golf course and the coastline are incredible.

"From our club's point of view we want to portray an image that everyone is welcome to come and play golf and to come to the North Coast.

"We want the people who are here to enjoy it. The other thing is there will be people around the world seeing Royal Portrush, the town and our coastline on television. I hope with that coverage there will be a ripple effect with people being intrigued by what we have to offer and come to our part of the world. In turn that will benefit the local economy and the Northern Ireland economy."

Before venturing to the course each day Robert, whose dream fourball would be the late great Seve Ballesteros, fellow golfing great Lee Trevino plus Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott and himself, will have a novel way to prepare.

"I'm hoping to go to Portballintrae and swim across the bay and back before getting into my jacket and tie," he says with a twinkle in his eyes.

"There are a few of us who do some open water swimming so I'll do that in the morning because I won't have time to do it any other time."

Post tournament, Portrush's club captain will host officials from Royal St George's, where The Open takes place next year, bringing back memories of Clarke's emotional major success there in 2011.

There will also be a very special day on the golf course.

Robert reveals: "There is a club competition on Tuesday where we will all have the opportunity to play from the back tees and play the pin positions as per Sunday. We might go out with great ideas having watched the professionals but could be brought down to earth pretty quickly!

"Before that though everyone involved with the club is looking forward to this week. "Royal Portrush is a special club and we aim to put our best foot forward for what will be a memorable occasion."

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