The greening of Augusta - Ireland at the Masters
  The 13th green at Augusta National. Picture © Brian Keogh

The 13th green at Augusta National. Picture © Brian Keogh

Augusta National is so alien to Irish golfing sensibilities (if you ignore the links-like contours) that just about the only thing we can relate to is the colour of the jacket given to the winner of the Masters Tournament every year.

Yes, it’s true that three Irishmen have been members of what is arguably most exclusive golf club in the world. But despite appearances by 13 Irishmen in 25 editions of the Masters since 1967 — five of them amateurs — the title remains elusive.

While Pádraig Harrington has won two Claret Jugs as well as the PGA’s Wanamaker Trophy and both Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy have raised the US Open trophy to the sky, we have yet to see an Irishman helped into the green jacket in the Butler Cabin.

McIlroy had one arm in the sleeve of the jacket in 2011, when he led for the first three rounds before imploding on the back nine on the final day, crushed by a combination of bad luck, the charging pack and some nervy putting.

A closing 80 condemned him to 15th place behind Charl Schwartzel and the best performance by an Irishman at the Cathedral of Pines remains a pair of fifth place finishes by Harrington in 2002 and 2008.

Given McIlroy’s immense talent, it would appear to be only a matter of time before the Holywood lad ends Ireland’s wait for a Masters champion. After all, he is as far removed from the archetypal Irish players as you are likely to find. 

Long and straight off the tee — with a penchant for the high draw that’s so useful at Augusta — he hits his irons so high that the course appears tailor-made for his skills.

“He will not just win one Masters, he will win multiple Masters,” said Graeme McDowell shortly after McIlroy’s 2011 meltdown. “I will say that right now. All the greats say you have got to throw a few away before you learn how to win one. I said at the start of Masters week that Augusta is absolutely tailor made for him and I stand by that.”

McIlroy believes that his heartbreaking Masters “meltdown” could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.

“If I look back on my career in 20 years, it’s very possible that that day in Augusta was probably the defining moment in my career,” he said after bouncing back to win the US Open by eight strokes just a few months later.

“It was definitely the point where I reached the crossroads in my career where I could keep going the wrong way or really take responsibility for myself and say, ‘right, this is what I’ve got to do to get better and win, and improve as a player’.

“The Masters was huge for me. It was a huge disappointment at the time but reflecting on it, looking back on it, it was probably the most important day of my career so far.

“Sometimes I felt I let people make decisions for me instead of taking my career into my own hands and deciding this is what I want to do, this is where I want to go. That day at the Masters helped me do that.”

Many ghosts lurk around Amen Corner but given his achievements since that day in 2011, one suspects that McIlroy will not be haunted by his Masters demons.

“Put it like this,” Harrington said. “If you were to ask anybody in the game of golf would they swap positions with Rory McIlroy, there wouldn’t be too many saying no.”

No Irish player has ever looked as comfortable at Augusta National as McIlroy and one only has to compare the Ulsterman’s attitude to those who went before him when he first saw the course created by Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie.

“I thought I would be nervous hitting my first shot here,” he said back in 2009, when he finished 20th on his debut as a mere 19-year old. “I think maybe if I was a little younger and maybe if I played here as an amateur it, would have been a little different and I would have been in awe of the place.

“But having been on Tour now for a year and a half, I'm not saying that it's not any different, but you try and, you know, just treat it as if it was another golf tournament. I'm not really one to get overwhelmed by much these days for some reason, don't know why.

But yeah, obviously I'm really excited to be here, don't get me wrong. But I want to try and get the most out of this week as possible. So you can't really be in awe of anything.”

Compare those comments to his compatriot David Feherty, who made his lone Masters appearance in 1992 and finished 52nd.

“I remember feeling like I was in a Salvador Dalí painting,” Feherty said. “I felt like there should have been clocks dripping out of the pine trees. It just didn’t seem real to me. I never really got comfortable with it. I just felt like I did for most of my career - it was like: ‘Me? Here? Really? That doesn’t fit.

“Everyone has a perception of what they thinks it looks like but nobody has an idea of how wide open it is, or how hilly. It was 1992 and I remember I qualified because I had finished sixth in the PGA Championship and the top eight got in. Back then it was impossible to get in. They were only taking the top three in Europe. I was a Ryder Cup playes too, so that’s another reason I got in. So I only played in it once but I qualified about four times in the same year!”

Christy O’Connor Senior turned down several Masters invitations because of the expense of getting there and the fact that he would be going into the tournament with little, if any, preparation.

It fell to the great amateur Joe Carr to break the mould and he did so with distinction.

As Dermot Gilleece explained in The Irish Times: “On February 1st, 1967, two months before the great event, a typewritten letter addressed to Joe Carr arrived at Suncroft, his home in Sutton. 

Originating at 75 Poplar Street NW, Atlanta 3, Georgia, it began: ‘Dear Joe - To my great delight I have just found on my desk your letter to Cliff Roberts saying that you will play in the Masters this year.’ And in spidery handwriting, it carried the signature "Bob Jones".

“The letter went on: ‘Please be assured that it will give us all, especially me, much pleasure to welcome you. I hope you will have your game in the best possible condition and that we may be able to cause you to have a good time. With best regards …’”

Carr was paired with the defending champion, Jack Nicklaus and to everyone's surprise, he made the cut and Nicklaus did not. The next year he returned, and was paired with Arnold Palmer, who by that time had won four Masters titles. Again, astonishingly, Carr survived to play at the weekend and Palmer did not.

Early in 1969, the Augusta authorities met to discuss who should play that year, the Masters, then as now, being an invitational event. 

Impressed by Carr's achievements in surpassing both Nicklaus and Palmer, Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts, said: "Well now, we're thinking about inviting Carr back again, but who, in the name of God, will play with him?" 

They thought they had solved their dilemma when someone thought of pairing him with Sam Snead, but this time neither man qualified for the final 36 holes.

By pure co-incidence, Snead was one of the first people that Harrington met when he arrived at Augusta in 2000 to make his debut.

His wife Caroline was chatting away in the car as they entered the gates and started the drive up Magnolia Lane. 

“Ssshh,” Harrington said gently. “We’re here.”

“It was a huge contrast to the madness outside with everyone running around. You head up Magnolia Drive and it’s all serene. Then you go through the clubhouse and out the far side and you're presented with this vast expanse in front of the clubhouse you've been told about, all the space there.

“I’m a kid and sort of awestruck. The first person I met was Paddy Murphy, the President of the Golfing Union of Ireland at that time, and he introduced me to Sam Snead. I sat down and I talked to him for a while at the table and that was very special. I suppose you don't get memories like that; that's as good as it gets.”

Paul McGinley ran straight out to the 10th to play Amen Corner when he made his debut in 2002 and when asked about the chances of seeing an Irish winner some day, he had no doubts.

“I think it is only a matter of time before an Irishman win the Masters and Rory will have one in his career without a doubt,” McGinley said. “The course really suits a guy like Rory who hits it as far and as high as he does. The par fives are very important there and the big hitters have an advantage. Not only that, Rory has a great short game too and the ability to work the ball. As he gets older, he will grow to love Augusta more and more as the years go by.”

The Irish at the Masters - by the numbers

  • 1 — Holes in one. Pádraig Harrington at the 16th in 2004 (6-iron, 177 yards)
  • 2 — Number of Irishmen to lead the Masters. Darren Clarke 2003 Rd 1 66 (3 shots over Barnes, Garcia and Price); Rory McIlroy 2011, Rd 1 65 T1 (Quiros); Rd 2 65-69 (by 2 shots); Rd 3 65-69-70 (by 4 shots).
  • 4 — Most Top-10 finishes, Pádraig Harrington
  • 5th — Best finish by an Irishman. Pádraig Harrington in 2002 and 2008
  • 7 — Most rounds in the 60s by Pádraig Harrington
  • 8th — Best finish by a Irish debutante. Darren Clarke in 1998
  • 13 — The number of Irishmen to play in the Masters
  • 14 — Most appearances, Pádraig Harrington
  • 52nd — Best finish by an amateur. Joe Carr in 1968
  • 65 — Low round by an Irishman. Rory McIlroy in round one in 2011
  • 72 — Best opening round by a debutante (Ronan Rafferty, Paul McGinley & Rory McIlroy)

 

Year by year

1967

Winner - Gay Brewer Jr. 280

Joe Carr (am) 55th 76 74 79 84  313

 

1968 

Winner - Bob Goalby 277

Joe Carr (am) 52nd 75 73 80 78 305

 

1969 

Winner - George Archer 281 

Joe Carr (am) MC  79 76 155 (148 cut)

 

1977

Winner - Tom Watson 276 

Christy O'Connor Jr. MC 78 79 - - 157 (Cut 149)

 

1986 

Winner - Jack Nicklaus 279 

Garth McGimpsey (am) MC 78 78 156 (Cut 149)

 

1987 

Winner - Larry Mize 285 

Garth McGimpsey (am) MC 79 77 156 (Cut 151)

 

1990  

Winner - Nick Faldo 278 

Ronan Rafferty T14 72 74 69 73 288 E

 

1991 

Winner - Ian Woosnam 277

Ronan Rafferty MC 73 76 149 (Cut 146)

 

1992 

Winner - Fred Couples 275

David Feherty T52  73 72 77 70 292 +4

 

1998 

Winner - Mark O’Meara 279

Darren Clarke T8 76 73 67 69 285 -3

 

1999

Winner - José María Olazábal 280

Darren Clarke MC 75 78 153 (Cut 148)

 

2000 

Winner - Vijay Singh 278

Pádraig Harrington T19 76 69 75 71 291 +3

Darren Clarke T40 72 71 78 74 295 +7

 

2001 

Winner - Tiger Woods 272

Darren Clarke 24th 72 67 72 73 284 -4

Pádraig Harrington T27 75 69 72 71 287 -1

 

2002 

Winner - Tiger Woods 276

Pádraig Harrington T5 69 70 72 71 282 -6

Paul McGinley T18 72 74 71 71 288 Even

Darren Clarke T20 70 74 73 72 289  +1

Michael Hoey (am) MC 75 73 - - 148 (Cut 147)

 

2003 

Winner - Mike Weir 281

Darren Clarke T28 66 76 78 74 294 +6

Pádraig Harrington MC 77 73 - - 150 (Cut 149)

 

2004

Winner - Phil Mickelson 279

Pádraig Harrington T13 74 74 68 72 288 E

Darren Clarke MC 70 79 - - 149 (Cut 148)

 

2005

Winner - Tiger Woods 276

Darren Clarke T17 72 76 69 71 288 Even

Graeme McDowell MC 79 70 - - 149 (Cut 148)

Pádraig Harrington MC 72 77 - - 149 (Cut 148)

 

2006

Winner - Phil Mickelson 281

Darren Clarke T22 72 70 72 77 291 3

Pádraig Harrington T27 73 70 75 74 292 4

Brian McElhinney (am) MC 80 75 - - 155 (Cut 148)

Paul McGinley MC 78 77 - - 155 (Cut 148)

 

2007 

Winner - Zach Johnson 289

Pádraig Harrington T7 77 68 75 73 293 +5

Darren Clarke MC 83 71 - - 154 (Cut 152)

 

2008 

Winner - Trevor Immelman 280

Pádraig Harrington T5 74 71 69 72 286 -2

 

2009 

Winner - Angel Cabrera 276

Graeme McDowell T17 69 73 73 69 284 -4

Rory McIlroy T20 72 73 71 70 286 -2

Pádraig Harrington T35 69 73 73 73 288 Even

 

2010 

Winner - Phil Mickelson 272

Graeme McDowell MC 75 74 - - 149 5 (Cut 147)

Pádraig Harrington MC 74 75 - - 149 5 (Cut 147)

Rory McIlroy MC 74 77 - - 151 7 (Cut 147)

 

2011

Winner - Charl Schwartzel 274

Rory McIlroy T15 65 69 70 80 284 -4 

Graeme McDowell MC 74 73 - - 147 3 (Cut 145)

Pádraig Harrington MC 77 72 - - 149 5 (Cut 145)

 

2012 

Winner - Bubba Watson 278

Pádraig Harrington T8 71 73 68 72 284 -4 

Graeme McDowell T12 75 72 71 68 286 -2

Rory Mcilroy T40 71 69 77 76 293 5

Darren Clarke MC 73 81 - - 154 10 (Cut 149)

 

2013 

Winner - Adam Scott 279

Rory McIlroy T25 72 70 79 69 +2

Graeme McDowell MC 73 76 - - 149 +5 (Cut 148)

Pádraig Harrington MC 78 75 - - 153 (Cut 148)

Alan Dunbar (am) MC 83 77 - - 160 +16 (Cut 148)

 

Individual Records

Joe Carr 

1967 55th (last) 76 74 79 84 

1968 52nd (last) 75 73 80 78

1969 MC  79 76 155 (148 cut)

 

Christy O'Connor Jr. 

1977 MC 78 79 - - 157 (Cut 149)

 

Garth McGimpsey

1986 MC 78 78 - - 156 (Cut 149)

1987 MC 79 77 - - 156 (Cut 151)

 

Ronan Rafferty 

1990 T14 72 74 69 73 288 E

1991 MC 73 76 - - 149 (Cut 146)

 

David Feherty

1992  T52 73 72 77 70 292 +4

 

Darren Clarke

1998 T8 76 73 67 69 285 -3

1999 MC 75 78 - - 153 (Cut 148)

2000 T40 72 71 78 74 295 +7

2001 24 72 67 72 73 284 -4

2002 T20 70 74 73 72 289  +1

2003 T28 66 76 78 74 294 +6

2004 MC 70 79 - - 149 (Cut 148)

2005 T17 72 76 69 71 288 Even

2006 T22 72 70 72 77 291 3

2007 MC 83 71 - - 154 (Cut 152)

2012 MC 73 81 - - 154 10 (Cut 149)

 

Padraig Harrington

2000 T19 76 69 75 71 291 +3

2001 T27 75 69 72 71 287 -1

2002 T5 69 70 72 71 282 -6

2003 MC 77 73 - - 150 (Cut 149)

2004 T13 74 74 68 72 288 E

2005 MC 72 77 - - 149 (Cut 148)

2006 T27 73 70 75 74 292 4

2007 T7 77 68 75 73 293 +5

2008 T5 74 71 69 72 286 -2

2009 T35 69 73 73 73 288 Even

2010 MC 74 75 - - 149 5 (Cut 147)

2011 MC 77 72 - - 149 5 (Cut 145)

2012 T8 71 73 68 72 284 -4 

2013 MC 78 75 - - 153 (Cut 148)

 

Paul McGinley

2002 T18 72 74 71 71 288 Even

2006 MC 78 77 - - 155 (Cut 148)

 

Michael Hoey

2002 MC 75 73 - - 148 (Cut 147)

 

Graeme McDowell

2005 MC 79 70 - - 149 (Cut 148)

2009 T17 69 73 73 69 284 -4

2010 MC 75 74 - - 149 5 (Cut 147)

2011 MC 74 73 - - 147 3 (Cut 145)

2012 T12 75 72 71 68 286 -2

2013 MC 73 76 - - 149 +5 (Cut 148)

 

 

Brian McElhinney

2006 MC 80 75 - - 155 (Cut 148)

 

Rory McIlroy

2009 T20 72 73 71 70 286 -2

2010 MC 74 77 - - 151 7 (Cut 147)

2011 T15 65 69 70 80 284 -4 

2012 T40 71 69 77 76 293 5

2013 T25 72 70 79 69 +2

 

Alan Dunbar

2013 MC 83 77 - - 160 +16 (Cut 148)