Samuel Henry “Errie” Ball, one of the most popular PGA teaching professionals in Illinois PGA Section history, also is the last surviving member of the 72-member inaugural Masters field of 1934. He received his invitation to the major from the legendary Bobby Jones, whom he had met at the 1930 Open Championship at Hoylake. Jones would ultimately write a letter of recommendation that resulted in Ball gaining his first club professional position.
Born in Bangor, Wales, to a renowned golf family, Ball first played golf at age 10, turned professional at age 17 and is the second oldest living and second longest serving PGA Professional. He was elected to PGA membership in June 1931.
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Ball was inspired and coached by his father, William Henry Ball, a golf professional at Lancaster Golf Club for 50 years. Errie’s great granduncle, John Ball, was the first amateur to win the Open Championship (1890) along with eight British Amateur Championships and the British National Open. Errie was urged by his uncle, Frank Ball, then the PGA head professional at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, to begin a golf career in America.
Ball later assisted George Sargent, who became PGA of America president, and in 1933 received Jones’ letter that led him to his first head professional post at Mobile (Ala.) Country Club. On the course, Ball won the 1931 Southeastern PGA Championship and the 1932 Atlanta Open. He served as PGA head professional from 1937-42 at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va., before he was drafted by the U.S. Navy.
Following the war, Ball became head professional at Oak Park (Ill.) Country Club, and would serve 24 years, while spending 20 winters teaching at Tucson (Ariz.) Country Club. He spent one winter (1962) as director of golf at John’s Island in Vero Beach, Fla. In 1972, Ball became the first PGA head professional and later PGA director of golf at Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook, Ill. He would make a return to the Masters 23 years later in 1957, the longest span between competitions for any Masters competitor.
Ball qualified for 20 U.S. Open Championships; competed in 12 PGA Championships and won PGA Section titles in the former Southeastern Section, Arizona and Illinois. He won three Illinois PGA Championships, the Illinois Open, and Illinois PGA Senior Open and Match Play Championship. Ball was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 1990, a year after being named PGA Professional emeritus at Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart, Fla., where he continues to give lessons today.
On Nov. 14, 2010, Ball celebrated his 100th birthday, honored by 17 PGA Professionals, the majority of whom served under him during his career. Ball and his wife, the former Maxwell “Maxie” Wright of Richmond, Va., live in Stuart, Fla. They have a daughter, Leslie, and two grandchildren, and celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary on Sept. 26.