In their April 2005 edition, Golf Magazine introduced Christy O'Connor Snr to younger American audiences as "the man who turned down 20 Masters invites."

The online wing of the enterprise, Golf.com, reproduced the article on his death in May 2016, regrettably using a photo of his nephew saluting the heavens at the Belfry in 1989 as the featured image. 

The article was a fine one, however. These days, players scramble for every ranking point they can in the hopes of landing an invite from the Augusta National committee. Graeme McDowell is currently in San Antonio, Texas, needing a win to garner the last slot in the field. 

'Himself' operated in a different era. His stellar career is a reminder that the fixation with the four majors is a relatively modern one.

Every January for two decades, the article noted, a letter would arrive at his Dublin home, offering him a spot in the US Masters, "but every year, O'Connor replied with a polite note declining the invite." 

Image - The legendary Christy O'Connor Senior at the 1997 Irish Seniors Open

The legendary Christy O'Connor Senior at the 1997 Irish Seniors Open

The primary reason was financial - though it wasn't the only one. Transatlantic jaunts weren't all that cheap or regular during O'Connor's career.

"I never had any sponsors, so who was going to pay my way to the States? I couldn't afford to - money wasn't that plentiful," he told Eamon Lynch.

However, he also figured that, since the professional circuit in the UK and Ireland was mainly summer-based, his game wouldn't be in good nick in early April. 

Between 1955 and 1970, the Galway man won at least one tournament a year on the British and Irish circuit, the effective forerunner of the European Tour. 

He topped the Order of Merit in 1961 and 1962, winning the Harry Vardon Trophy. He won the prestigious British Masters twice, in 1956 and 1959. 

In 1970, he won the John Player Classic, then the richest tournament in British (or European) golf, pocketing a £25,000 winners cheque.

The story of O'Connor, one of Europe's finest golfers in the 50s and 60s, illustrates why the Irish history of involvement in the Masters prior to the 21st century is so scant. 

And the US Masters was, for him, "just another tournament." 

As was the US Open. And even the British Open, which was the only 'major' championship he played in. He never managed to land the Claret Jug, finishing in the top-10 numerous times and in second place behind Peter Thompson in 1965. Though, he didn't sound terribly regretful when contemplating the subject. 

The four major championships just didn't occupy the same exalted status in the golf calendar that they do nowadays. 

In the early portion of O'Connor's career, US golfers didn't even bother with the British Open, put off by the expense of travelling and the comparatively meagre prize-money. 

Ben Hogan played it only once, and won, in 1953. Sam Snead only played it once in his pomp, winning in 1946. Snaffling the Claret Jug for himself didn't appear to improve the latter's mood. Snead was an American chauvinist who bulled his way around the Old Course at St. Andrew's like Red Foreman forced to endure a Parisian holiday. He wouldn't return until 1962. "Whenever you leave the USA, you're just camping out," he said later on.

It wasn't until Arnold Palmer in the early 1960s, drawing inspiration from Bobby Jones's feat of winning the US Open and the British Open in one year, that the idea of a modern Grand Slam was hatched and the 'Open Championship' recovered its status among US golfers.

The story of O'Connor, one of Europe's finest golfers in the 50s and 60s, illustrates why the Irish history of involvement in the Masters prior to the 21st century is so scant. 

Image - Ronan Rafferty playing the Masters in 1990

Ronan Rafferty playing the Masters in 1990

Legendary amateur Joe Carr was the first Irishman to tee off in the Masters back in 1967. The most famous amateur of them all, Mr Bobby Jones, founder of the Augusta National, was delighted to learn that Carr was taking up the invite, and sent him a note saying as much. 

Amateur golf sat on a loftier perch in that era and Carr was a revered figure. A three-time British Amateur champion - that being one of the original 'majors' which Bobby Jones won in 1930 - Carr finished in 8th spot in the British Open at St Andrew's in 1960. A year later, in 1961, he became the first non-American to win the Bob Jones award for distinguished sportsmanship.

Carr performed well on his debut though became something of a bad luck charm for his playing partners. In '67, he was paired alongside defending champion Jack Nicklaus. He made the cut and Nicklaus didn't. 

In the 1968 Masters, a tournament best remembered for the scorecard mishap which cost Roberto De Vincenzo a shot at a playoff against Bob Goalby, Carr was partnered with another legend Arnold Palmer. He made the cut and Palmer didn't. 

The Augusta chairman Cliff Roberts joked that they were thinking of inviting Carr back the next year but no one wanted to play with him. Eventually he was paired with then veteran Snead. Neither made the cut. 

"I didn't want to be distracted by all this beauty and variety while I was playing. I am glad I took that tour. Going along the seventh I half-expected a Salvador Dali clock to come tumbling from a tree.'"

Irish involvement in the Masters was close to non-existent in the 1970s and 80s. Christy O'Connor Junior became the first Irish professional player to qualify for Augusta in 1977 but he failed to make the cut. Bangor's Garth McGimpsey was invited in 1986 and 1987, following his win in the British Amateur in '85, but was unable to make the weekend on either occasion. 

That was it until Newry's Ronan Rafferty, leading light on the European Tour for a brief period in the late 80s and early 90s, and the Order of Merit winner in 1989.   

Rafferty made a nice bit of history in the US majors in 1990. In April, he became the first Irish golfer to break into the top-20 at Augusta, finishing tied for 14th on even par.

And in June, he would become the first Irish professional to play the US Open since the Second World War when he teed off at Medinah. He made the cut too, albeit finishing in a rather more modest 63rd place overall. The Irish press weren't too preoccupied with this landmark achievement. Attentions were directed elsewhere that summer. Ireland played Egypt in Palermo on the Sunday.  

Image - Padraig Harrington tees off at the 12th in the final round of the 2008 Masters

Padraig Harrington tees off at the 12th in the final round of the 2008 Masters

Rafferty made it back to both majors the next year but had a less happy experience. He missed the cut at Augusta and didn't even get that far in the US Open in Hazeltine. At 11 over par after 27 holes and with little prospect of making the cut, Rafferty told his playing partners he was shooting off to the toilet and promptly left the course. He flew home that evening and was fined £8,000 by the European Tour.

David Feherty, now better known as a media rascal and puckish golf commentator in the US, was the next Irishman to play at Augusta in 1992. So transfixed was he by the beauty of Augusta that he opted to forgo the practice round and simply tour the course instead. 

"I didn't want to be distracted by all this beauty and variety while I was playing," he said. "I am glad I took that tour. Going along the seventh I half-expected a Salvador Dali clock to come tumbling from a tree.'

He made the cut but failed to challenge. The Down man chose to stay on the States and only played sparingly in Europe for the short remainder of his career. He is not, as he has made clear, the type to sing wistful laments about longing to return to the homeland. 

There was another gap until Darren Clarke, almost the British Open winner at Troon in 1997, earned an invite in 1998. There has been at least one representative from this island in the field in every year since. 

The Masters, despite its legendary air of stuffy exclusivity, always seemed the most accessible of the American majors from an Irish perspective, partly because the other two disappeared behind a TV subscription paywall in the mid-1990s

The green jacket remains the only major prize not to fall into Irish hands. 

This seems strange in some respects. The Masters, despite its legendary air of stuffy exclusivity, always seemed the most accessible of the American majors from an Irish perspective, partly because the other two disappeared behind a TV subscription paywall in the mid-1990s, but also because the event was dominated by the Europeans for much of the 80s and 90s. 

European golfers accounted for 11 of the 20 winners over the two decades and the run of success peaked between 1987 and 1996, when only Fred Couples (1992) and Ben Crenshaw (1995) interrupted the flow of European victories. 

Irish golf did not share in this bonanza. Once the Irish major wins all arrived in a flood - nine championships won in eight years between 2007 and 2014 - the Masters was the only one not to fall. 

Image - Padraig Harrington strides around the 15th green

Padraig Harrington strides around the 15th green

When Padraig Harrington landed the first Irish major victory on US soil, it was the US PGA Championship he won. Of the four majors, the PGA always seemed to have the weakest USP and was the most inhospitable to European challengers.

For years, it was more likely to be won by some anonymous, drawling, Tin Cup-style slugger from Austin than any of the leading luminaries of the European Tour. ('Rich Beem' was a classic US PGA winner name if ever there was one). 

Before Harrington's victory in 2008, the last European to win that event was Scotland's Tommy Armour in 1930, who'd been wounded in the First World War. Rory McIlroy has since won it twice, romping to victory in Kiawah Island in 2012 and winning wire-to-wire in Valhalla in 2014.

The forbidding US Open has fallen twice into Irish hands, with Graeme McDowell and McIlroy winning back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.  

But despite a few mighty tilts, no US Masters win yet. 

After hooking his drive on 13 into Rae's Creek, he buried his face in his driver handle. From there on, the TV cameras lost interest in covering his missteps.

Harrington ran it close in 2002 and 2007, repeated disasters on the 15th ruining him on the latter occasion. And then there was Rory in 2011, the most famous Irish performance around Augusta. The 21-year old McIlroy, then seeking his first major victory, opened with a seven-under par 65 on Thursday, followed it up with solid under-par rounds to leave himself four shots clear heading into Sunday. 

Destiny awaited. He wobbled on the outward nine and his lead was whittled down to one shot as he strode to the tenth tee.

If he stumbled a bit on the front nine, then he truly fell arse over head on the back nine. A triple-bogey 7 on the 10th saw him slip from 1st to 7th in one fell swoop.

He then managed to four-putt the par-3 12th for a double-bogey. After hooking his drive on 13 into Rae's Creek, he buried his face in his driver handle. From there on, the TV cameras lost interest in covering his missteps. His final round of 80 is still the worst ever for an overnight leader of the Masters. 

Image - Rory McIlroy watches it all unravel on the 10th hole on Sunday

Rory McIlroy watches it all unravel on the 10th hole on Sunday

The Masters is perhaps the most romantic of the major championships. Its association with one course gives it tremendous cachet. There's no other golf course in the world where armchair fans could describe, in such detail, the contours of the back nine.  

From Amen corner, to the butler cabin, to Eisenhower tree and the green jacket itself, there isn't another tournament so stuffed with quirky traditions. (Though since Hootie Johnson departed us for the great butler cabin in the sky, those polite chats with Jim Nantz have never been the same.)

Since Irish golfers started accepting the invite, they've given it a few close rattles. Presumably, it's only a matter of time before one stops in for some tedious chit-chat with Jim Nantz after the 72nd hole. 


Follow all four rounds of the Masters via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app, or listen to regular updates from the course with RTÉ Radio's Greg Allen.