TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to Errie Ball, the Welsh golfer and last survivor of the original Masters. Ball, who died in hospital in Florida on Wednesday, was 103 and enjoyed a career of such longevity that it began in prohibition-era America.
His love of the game was infectious and he continued teaching and playing until he was 100.
Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, said: “We will miss him dearly, but his legacy continues to shine through the many PGA professionals he inspired. Errie’s amazing career spans the legends of the game, from Harry Vardon through Tiger Woods.
“His longevity, according to those who knew him best, was founded upon a love of people.”
Ball claimed the secret of his extraordinarily long career was “a good wife and a couple of scotches every night”.
He was a member of the PGA of America for a record 83 years and was inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame in 2011. Born in Bangor, Samuel Henry “Errie” Ball came from a long line of golf professionals and was taught the game by his father, William Henry Ball, who spent 50 years as professional at Lancaster golf club.
The game “was such a huge part of his life”, his daughter Leslie Adams Gogarty said.
Ball played in the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament in 1934, which later became the Masters, and finished tied for 38th, 25 shots behind winner Horton Smith. Ball went on to compete in 19 US PGA Championships, tying for second in the 1962 tournament.
He was a three-time winner of the Illinois PGA and also won the Illinois Open and the Illinois PGA Senior event.
Gogarty said her father was encouraged to come to the United States by the great Bobby Jones. On arrival he worked at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, which was Jones’ home club. That began a career of teaching and playing that continued until he was 100.
Ball left Wales and set sail for America in 1930, arriving on the day Jones defeated Gene Homins to complete golf’s Grand Slam of victories in both the Amateur and Open Championships of Great Britain and America. The coincidence was apt as Jones was to play a key role in Ball’s development. In March 1934, the great champion invited 72 players to the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament.
The Jones connection goes back further. Speaking in 2010, Ball said: “The story begins in 1930. My uncle Frank was working as a pro at Bob Jones’s home course at East Lake and he was always telling me to head on over there, that golf was a poor man’s game at home but it was a rich man’s game in America. I met Bob and he said I’d do well. I arrived that September, the same day he sealed his Grand Slam.”
Ball’s daughter said her father was amazed at how the game grew in popularity over time. Gogarty said he was invited back to Augusta National a few times in recent years, but didn’t attend.
“He always said he wanted to remember [Augusta] the way it was,” she said.