Ireland’s history at the Masters, our place amongst the pines

Ireland’s history at the Masters amounts to fourteen different players and their pursuit of an elusive Green Jacket.

Since the great Joe Carr’s debut in 1967, Christy O’Connor Junior (1977), Garth McGimpsey (1986), Ronan Rafferty (1990), David Feherty (1992), Darren Clarke (1998), Padraig Harrington (2000), Paul McGinley (2002), Michael Hoey (2002), Graeme McDowell (2005), Brian McElhinney (2006), Rory McIlroy (2009), Alan Dunbar (2013) and Shane Lowry (2015) all made their first Masters appearances at the most pristine parkland in golf.

Carr’s debut was a testament to the man’s billing. Not only was he invited to make the trip across the Atlantic to the renowned Georgia venue but he was paired with the impenetrable Jack Nicklaus for the first two rounds. To everyone’s surprise, Carr made the cut and Nicklaus did not and yet despite the amateur’s relatively low-profile stateside, the greats of the game continued to seek Carr’s company each year he attended. Sure enough, in 1968, Carr was paired with ‘The King’ himself, Arnold Palmer and perhaps less-surprisingly after he’d bettered Nicklaus, the Irish amateur outshone his co-star once more, surviving the cut where Palmer couldn’t.

In 1969, the powers that be at Augusta National met to discuss who’d be receiving an invitation for the April showpiece.

“Well now, we’re thinking about inviting Carr back again, but who in the name of God will play with him?” – asked Cliff Roberts, the then overlord of Augusta National.

Sam Snead was afforded the privilege but as Murphy’s Law would have it, both players missed the cut. It proved to be Carr’s final appearance at the Masters.

Where Carr’s career is often documented, a lesser known participant standing alone in our stable of Masters memories is Ballymoney’s Michael Hoey, whose sole appearance at Augusta proved noteworthy.

Earning his invite after winning the British Amateur title at Prestwick in 2001, the then spritely 23-year old agonisingly missed out on the halfway cut by one gut-wrenching stoke. Consolation could be found, however, when it emerged that his rounds of 75 and 73 in his farewell amateur appearance equalled the lowest 36-hole total by a British amateur in Masters history.

Many men born on this island have tried and failed when it comes to mastering Augusta but our love affair with the Masters rolls on each year with more infatuation. This year, Ireland will be represented by Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry as the pair attempt to write their own chapter in our island’s Masters memories, and with the former installed as pre-tournament favourite across betting outlets around the world, maybe 2019 will be the year that Ireland’s place amongst the pines is preserved for all eternity when McIlroy wears green?