"Augusta was love at first sight. I was smitten,” wrote Severiano Ballesteros in his autobiography as he recalled his first trip to Magnolia Lane in 1977.

His amorous impressions came as no surprise. Having grown up on tales of his uncle Ramon Sota’s exploits at Augusta in 1965 – when his mum’s brother finished sixth – the Masters had won his heart at an early age. When he practised chipping or putting on the range he would commentate, imploring himself that “this is to win the Masters”.

When he slipped the green jacket on for the first time in 1980 he would claim he had already seen it in his mind’s eye as a result of the transcendental meditation he undertook in his preparations for the tournament. The methods employed were so effective that they were sufficient for him to feel somewhat anti-climactic at his achievement, his teacher later explaining to him that his mind thought he was doing it for the second time around; then he did exactly that three years later.

His exploits in 1980 and 1983 spawned a two-time Masters winner in Jose Maria Olazabal who, in turn, passed on the flame to Sergio Garcia. There is a connection, too, to John Rahm, Spain’s brightest hope at this year’s event.

Back in 1980, invitations to Europeans for the Masters were as rare as Democrats in Texas. Ballesteros received his by virtue of a letter that Johnny Miller, the 1973 US Open winner, sent to Clifford Roberts, then president of Augusta National Golf Club, recommending the young Spaniard for inclusion in the 1977 edition. He was one of just four Europeans given an exemption that year.

There was a residual sentiment that bordered on hostility on the American golf scene that Europeans were inferior players, it was a belief that permeated the consciousness of the Europeans themselves. Ballesteros demolished that notion.

Augusta National was and remains today the embodiment of southern sophistication. Here was an upstart from Pedrena in Northern Spain, a poor farm kid whose first equipment had been fashioned from a tree branch thrust into an old club head. Growing up in rural Spain, with money tight, he would jump the wall at Royal Pedrena to play under the moonlight with stolen balls and a 3-iron that his brother Manuel had bought him for his eighth birthday.

He adopted the rebellious role easily. The American press poked fun at the Spaniard whom they dubbed the “parking-lot champion” because of the shot Seve had played from the car park on his way to winning The Open at Lytham in 1977 and he was intent on sticking two fingers up to them. In 1978, he was paired with two-time winner Gary Player for the final round. The pair started stride for stride on three-under before the South African started to tick. At one point, Player turned to Ballesteros and told him that there were those in the crowd who did not think he could win and there were catcalls from behind the ropes the whole way down the home stretch.

Ballesteros celebrated lustily as Player claimed his third green jacket; he left knowing, too, that the words of advice from his father, Baldomero, had never been more pertinent. “If you want to be No.1 you must be prepared.”

He spent time working on his mental focus through meditation and was using a trapeze for a back problem in the run-up to the 1980 tournament. A year earlier, he had finished in joint-12th but he arrived the following season in good form, having tied for third in the Tour Players Championship at Sawgrass. He shot out of the traps, carding a 66 in his first round and from there he barely looked back.

There was a hiccup at 17 on the second day when he found the seventh green with a hooked tee shot. His near-hysterical playing partners David Graham and Andy North asked Seve if he would like to putt out for his eagle. Instead, Seve took the drop, played over a scoreboard and planted the ball 20 feet from the flag before holing out with an incredible putt for birdie.

“Players who keep hitting the fairways are boring,” he quipped after his second round left him four shots clear. By the end of day three, he was seven ahead and on the morning of his final round, the only questions were about whether he would break the course record.

Much as Player had experienced, there was little in the way of generous applause from the patrons of Augusta National that day. Having led by 10 shots at the turn, the parking-lot champion was heading nose first for the gravel as he left Amen Corner. His lead had been cut to three shots by the Australian Jack Newton, then two by the American Gibby Gilbert who was on a run of birdies. At the 15th, one fan who had earlier claimed to be Seve’s friend riled him so much with his vocal support for Newton that he promptly stuck his second shot, after a wayward drive, slap bang at the pin; he holed it and his jitters disappeared as he closed out to win by four shots.

Gilbert’s sniffy comments afterwards seemed to sum up much of American golf’s opinion of Ballesteros. “Seve is good,” said Gilbert. “But he’s made to look good here because Augusta has wide fairways where there’s no real trouble off the tee.”

Gilbert seemed to be unaware of the inherent contradiction in his words while Seve’s subsequent win in 1983 proved that the observation was patently nonsense.

It was a closer-fought, rain-interrupted competition but Ballesteros still won by the same four-shot margin that he had achieved in 1980 after a final round in which Tom Kite admitted that he and the other challengers – Ray Floyd, Craig Stadler and Tom Watson – had been driving Chevrolets while Seve was in a Ferrari. He had prevailed in a psychological battle with Watson during his final round and it seemed a wider war for recognition among European golfers had been won.

In the course of the next 16 years Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Olazabal would claim nine green jackets between them.

Langer pipped Ballesteros by two shots in 1986, revenge for a reversal of their positions in The Open at St Andrews nine months earlier but the German would later admit that despite their rivalry the pair were determined to strike a blow for Europe.

“The whole world thought the Americans were better. We wanted to prove that the Europeans were just as good,” said Langer.

It was a potent message and one which found an ever-louder voice around Ryder Cup time but Seve’s exploits at Augusta had wider ramifications, too.

Olazabal, who won in 1994 and again in 1999, explained the importance of watching Seve’s win, on a television set back in Spain.

“As a 14-year-old boy, I could not believe what I had seen. I loved every second,” he would later say of Ballesteros’ iconic victory. “What he couldn’t have known is what he did for a young Spanish boy, who dreamed one day of winning here and putting on that green jacket, just like him.”

When it came to Olazabal’s own big moment in ’94, Ballesteros left a note in his locker before his final round with words of support exhorting him to victory.

“It was a special moment,” Olazabal said. “You get up there, and there is a piece of paper saying ‘stay calm, let your game do the talking, you have the game to win it.’ It made me feel great.”

More than two decades later, Olazabal repeated the gesture with Garcia, ahead of his own victory at Augusta in 2017.

There had been no previous interest in golf in Rahm’s family before his father travelled to Valderrama in 1997 to watch a Europe team captained by Seve defeat the USA to lift the Ryder Cup. It is unlikely that Rahm, one of the favourites for this year’s Masters, would have ever played the sport had it not been for his father’s trip.

Seve did not so much kick the door down for the rest of Europe as leave it ajar for Langer, Lyle, Faldo, Woosnam and Olazabal to barge through. There have been but two European winners since Olazabal in 1999 and perhaps Seve holds the answer there, too. His feats at Augusta gave belief to Europeans in other spheres of golf. Most notably in the Ryder Cup in which the continent has claimed 12 out of 20 trophies since 1979 – a bellwether on transatlantic domination.

Seve, the European golfer most synonymous with those feats, can take plenty of credit for the transformation. So, too, in the Masters where around a quarter of this week’s field owe their presence there in some part to his efforts in unlocking the door.