Rafferty was briefly one of the best professional golfers in Europe. Between 1987 and 1993, he won 12 official tournaments around the world: five in Australia, seven in Europe. He led the 1989 European Tour Order of Merit and qualified for the 1989 Ryder Cup team. By the early 1990s, he came close to breaking the then-record for consecutive cuts made on the European Tour. He also spent over 100 weeks ranked inside the top 25 of the Official World Golf Ranking between 1989 and 1993.
Rafferty joined the European Tour in 1982. He first year was solid (if unremarkable) with one top ten and 48th ranking on the Order of Merit. His second season, in 1983, inaugurated an excellent stretch that lasted throughout the 1980s. In eight straight seasons, he finished in the top 30 of the Order of Merit and recorded at least six top-10s per year.
He recorded an astonishing 62 top-10s before his first European Tour victory. This included a playoff loss to compatriot David Feherty at the 1986 Lancia Italian Open.
He had better luck winning down under, however, recording two wins on the 1987 Australasian Tour. The second victory was at the New Zealand Open where he defeated defending PGA Championship winner Larry Nelson in a playoff. He was the first European to win New Zealand’s national open since the 1920s.
Outstanding weather at the Wellington Golf Club’s Heretaunga course on December 10 to 13 and a fine field attracted large galleries. The tournament began quietly with Harwood and Llewellyn scoring two under ’70s.
The pace picked up considerably at the start of the final day. A course record by the American Larry Nelson and three sub-par rounds by Irishman Ramon Rafferty gave them the lead at eight-under with Mike Harwood one stroke back.
Nelson eagled fourteen but Rafferty went to ten under and one stroke ahead at sixteen. The leader finished double bogey, birdie to force a tie that could not be broken until the seventh extra hole when tree trouble cost Nelson the title.
After knocking on the door for years, Rafferty would finally win in Europe in 1989. He avenged his 1986 playoff loss at the Italian Open with a one-stroke win over Sam Torrance. This would be Rafferty’s best season, as he would win an additional two events and record 15 top-10 finishes. At the end of the year, he won the Volvo Masters, the most prestigious win of his career, defeating Nick Faldo by one shot.
He would go on to win the European Tour Order of Merit and would also finish atop the 1989 Ryder Cup standings and play in his only Ryder Cup that year at The Belfry.
1990 was another great season for Rafferty, he won the Coca-Cola Classic, PLM Open, and Ebel European Masters Swiss Open. He also recorded two runner-ups and had 12 top-10s in 30 official tour events. His excellent play earned him a special foreign invitation to play the Masters for the first time. In the spring he reached his career peak of #16 in the Official World Golf Ranking after a tie for 6th at the Belgian Open. He also qualified for the U.S. Open and PGA Championship; he was the first Irish pro to play in the U.S. Open since the 1940s.
The beginning of the 1992 season suddenly saw Rafferty go on perhaps the hottest stretch of his career. He finished no worse than second place in five consecutive worldwide events: a victory at the Daikyo Palm Meadows Cup for his final win in Australia; a tie for second at the European-sanctioned Johnnie Walker Classic in Bangkok, Thailand; a playoff loss to Seve Ballesteros at the Dubai Desert Classic; a runner-up to American legend Tom Watson at the Hong Kong Open; and finally a victory at the Portuguese Open. His world ranking would peak again at #16 after his win in Portugal.
The culmination of this period also marked the beginning of a slow decline that would persist to the end of his career. In the heart of the season, playing in more challenging European and American events, Rafferty could not keep up, missing the cut in most of the events he played and, when he made the cut, usually finishing near the bottom.
Rafferty maintained full-time status for a few more years and recorded a spate of top 10s but could come close to matching his 1980s heyday. In 1997 broken bones in his left hand severely affected his play and after the 1997 season, he failed to enter the top 100 of the Order of Merit again. He would retire as a touring professional after the 2003 season.