Meet Christy O’Connor Sr., the man who declined 20 Masters invites

March 21, 2016

[This story first appeared in the April 2005 edition of GOLF Magazine. Christy O’Connor Sr. died in May of 2016 at the age of 91.]

Every January for two decades, an envelope bearing the crest of Augusta National Golf Club arrived in the Dublin mailbox of Christy O’Connor Sr. offering him a place in the field at the upcoming Masters. That invitation is now the most sought-after summons in golf, an all-access pass to the game’s greatest stage. But every year O’Connor replied with a polite note declining the invite.

Known in Ireland as simply “Himself,” O’Connor starred on 10 Ryder Cup teams and in countless tales of hijinks. He won 32 events and finished second to Peter Thomson at the 1965 British Open. By then he’d already refused a decade’s worth of entreaties from Augusta: the first in 1955 and the last in 1974, the exact span of his Ryder Cup. “I never had any sponsors,” he said, “so who was going to pay my way to the States? I couldn’t afford to — money wasn’t that plentiful.”

Finances weren’t the only obstacles for a father of six holding down a club pro job: O’Connor’s game was invariably rusty after another dreary Irish winter. “My first tournament was in April. Pro golf wasn’t round-the-clock, like it is now,” he said. “I wasn’t going over there not tuned-up.”

And if the modern Masters is venerated as golf’s highest altar, 40 years ago O’Connor was a non-believer. “I always watch it on TV now, but at that time it was just another tournament,” he said. “Same goes for the American Open and the British Open. I would like to have won them, don’t get me wrong. Sure, ’twas great if you won an Open. But they were just another tournament.”

O’Connor’s indifference to The Masters isn’t unique. Lee Trevino skipped it four times in the 1970s, claiming Augusta National didn’t suit his game. But Trevino was also known to harbor a healthy disregard for club officials and felt so unwelcome there that one year he opted to change his shoes in the parking lot rather than use the locker room.

The man Himself had no such qualms, since he’s still never been to Augusta. He just seldom played in America. O’Connor attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open only once. “It was somewhere in Washington,” he recalled. “I played the last hole in the dark. Took 6 on a 4 par and missed by a shot.”

In an era when even amateurs are globetrotters and roll down Magnolia Lane with an entourage, it seems quaint that one of Europe’s finest golfers never made it to Augusta. But O’Connor says he has no regrets about those 20 “no thanks.”

“I loved what I did, and I consider myself lucky. When I look back, I would have loved to have won The Masters,” he said. “But it never broke me heart that I didn’t.”