The Irish sporting calendar has numerous unwaning traditions. January is reserved for airing GAA grievances until the real action commences with the Six Nations. Cheltenham heralds a shift in focus cross-channel as an action-packed week plays out in Gloucestershire. Come April, attention moves further afield with a major that attracts fans across the spectrum.
This week Irish eyes were trained on Augusta for what is now a year-on-year delight, an annual affair that involves weeks of enthusiastic build-up and speculation; the much-heralded appearance of the Kerry jersey at the Masters.
2019's eagerly anticipated showing was not long in materializing.
— Conor Grubb (@OfficiallyGrubb) April 11, 2019
The custom is not a particularly old one, with its origins stretching back six years to the 2012 Masters. This is the year a 16-year-old Hugh O Keeffe attended his first golf tournament.
I'm not from Kerry originally, my dad is from Kerry. His golf club and Laune Rangers GAA Club, the local club held a competition for tickets. We couldn't believe it but we won and ended up with it all paid for; two flights. hotel and tickets. It was a Christmas draw and I remember he wasn't actually going to buy a ticket at first. In the end it was one of the best experiences of my life, just a really amazing week.
The father and son duo enjoyed a relatively quiet first day at the legendary course before they encountered another Irish man, clearly identifiable by his Tyrone football jersey.
We went the first day and we saw this guy with his wife. He was wearing a Tyrone jersey and he said he has been going for the last five years and that no one has ever said anything about it. I was only 16 at the time.
Now I probably wouldn't do it, but we went home that night and Dad said bring it with you the next day, so I wore it. I don't know why I even brought it. Oh my god, the amount of attention it got! First off, everyone there at the course came up. There were people who played in Waterville, who had been to Kerry, had family from Kerry, Americans who loved Ireland. It just got so much attention.
Then there were a few shots on camera, but the most iconic was at the last of me clapping looking like an absolute idiot. We got back to the hotel that night and I finally got to log onto the wifi in the restaurant.
My phone was blowing up and I didn't really know what it was about! My Irish friends, Americans, almost everyone I knew had screenshots from Sky News and I must have had 300 notifications.
With the green and gold being more identifiable than the red and white, overnight Hugh became an internet star.
However, the attention was at first unwelcomed for the then-teen who was hostile to the fanfare.
Initially, I was mortified. I was shocked and taken aback by these unflattering photos, I'm not going to lie about that. It just really took over... I know it was just a random thing but it was really the fact that we saw this guy wearing a GAA jersey and we said 'why not do it.' Some people took the piss, you're going to have that. There was a bit of a negative attitude so I was like 'oh, I shouldn't have done that.' I was an awkward kid but now at this age when I look back, I am glad I did it. People get so much entertainment out of it afterward, it is funny to see.
On his return to Kerry. O'Keeffe became a local celebrity. As the years went by others bore the jersey and soon the tradition was entrenched. Since 2012, the craze has caught on.
"Twas 36 games Rory , Moran and Sheahan late points, Geaney with 0-8, Dubs got a late...sorry, u hit away and I'll fill u in on the rest .." pic.twitter.com/R8WIRlwK0X
— joe stack (@joestack_ky) April 9, 2017
Above all else, O'Keeffe is glad to have provided a dose of amusement for the onlooking fans at home and abroad. But it was not just the fans who benefitted. 2012 saw Rory McIlroy return to Augusta having suffered a heart-breaking final round collapse the year before. That year he did not fare much better, stumbling to a +5 and T40 finish. It got so bad that Sergio Garcia came over and hugged him mid-round.
However, amidst the nightmare, one small note of happiness emerged from the mass.
The second we went in it we got a reaction. The first guy we saw said he had just come back from a week at Waterville and it went on and on... later in the day while walking down Rory McIlroy just glanced over, looked again and laughed. It made him smile anyway.
These days, O'Keeffe has modelling aspirations and is set to compete in Mr. Ireland this coming May. The competition involves a full judging panel with a fashion show, an evening wear round, beachwear and a chat with the host. The illustrious jersey from 2012 still exists buried in the wardrobe, but it is unlikely to reappear for that particular affair.