Euros find easier path to Augusta than in past

Jamie Donaldson of Wales is headed to the Masters at Augusta National in 2014 along with a European Tour contingent that might not have made it decades ago.

Twenty-eight Europeans will tee it up in this year’s Masters. Sam Torrance, Ken Brown, Mark James and Howard Clark must wish they’d played in these enlightened times as opposed to the dark ages, when Augusta only allowed select Europeans down Magnolia Lane.

The contrast between the present and the past couldn’t be more stark. Thirty years ago, only four Europeans played in the Masters and one of those was an amateur. Twenty years ago, the number had risen to just 13. There were 18 in 2004.

Torrance and company made 26 Ryder Cup appearances, and won 54 European tournaments. These were the guys in the next tier below European superstars Seve Ballesteros, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal. The big six found it easy to get into the season’s first major – yet those just beneath them were usually persona non grata as far as Augusta was concerned.

Torrance is the lucky one in the above quartet. He played four Masters. Brown, James and Clark played in one each.

Look at this year’s Masters and you’ll find the likes of Jamie Donaldson, David Lynn, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Joost Luiten and Peter Hanson in the field. They get a tee time courtesy of being world top-50 players. They’re the equivalent of Torrance, Clark, Brown and James, yet we take it for granted the Donaldsons and Luitens will play Augusta.

“The Masters was pretty much a closed shop in my day,” Brown said. “It was almost impossible to get an invitation unless you won a major or won the (European) Order of Merit.

Brown made his only Masters appearance in 1988, courtesy of winning the 1987 Southern Open on the PGA Tour.

“I would love to have played in the Masters more than once,” said Clark, who made his Masters appearance in 1987. “I’d love to have played more times in America but it just wasn’t possible. Just getting invites to PGA Tour events was hard enough, never mind the majors.”

Nowadays there are invites for players who do well in the previous year’s majors. That option wasn’t available a little over 20 years ago. England’s Malcolm Mackenzie finished fifth in the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield, but got little for it.

“There was a time when that would have gotten me an invite to the Masters, the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, but I got nothing extra for that performance.”

Augusta didn’t just shun Europeans. In 1990, Australian Mike Harwood won the Volvo PGA Championship and Volvo Masters, two of Europe’s biggest events. He finished second in the 1991 Open Championship. Yet Harwood never played in the Masters.

Then there’s Ernie Els. In 1992, Els earned the South African triple crown, winning the South African Open, South African Masters and South African PGA Championship. He also won another three tournaments in his homeland. That should have been enough to get him into the 1993 Masters field, yet Els had to wait until 1994 for his Augusta invitation.

Former European Tour chief executive Ken Schofield fought hard to get European Tour members into the Masters and the other American majors. It took him a long time, but he succeeded. Those 28 Europeans teeing it up at Augusta this year owe Schofield a huge debt of gratitude.

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