HE IS the only survivor from the first ever staging of the Masters (it took place in 1934, three months after the repeal of prohibition) and Errie Ball still likes to hit a few balls around the Willoughby Country Club near his home in Stuart, Florida.

This son of Wales is now 99 and says the secret of his longevity is "a good wife and a couple of scotches every night". As his countrymen host the Celtic Manor Wales Open this week, Errie will doubtless raise a glass to today's generation of Welsh golfers.

Ball left the Valleys to make his name in the sport, setting sail for America in 1930. He arrived in the land of opportunity on the day Bobby 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, or the Masters as it came to be known.

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The Jones connection goes back further. "Well, 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."

Back at Augusta and it was Horton Smith who became the inaugural champion in 1934, with Jones finishing tied for 13th with his old adversary Walter Hagen. Ball came unstuck at the third on the final round when he was struck by a dose of the yips. He only returned to Augusta once more – to play in the 1957 Masters – but his major career stretched across 40 years with Ball playing 29 times from 1926 to 1966. He never won one and the closest he came was when he finished runner-up at the US PGA in 1962.

He was also fourth in 1963 and made the top-14 in five of the next six years. Appropriately, it was at the PGA that he made his final bow in the majors. At the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, in 1996, Ball shot 301 and tied for 64th.