Samuel Henry "Errie" Ball, the humble man from Wales whose professional golf career was sparked by legendary Bobby Jones, achieved a new milestone Nov. 14, by celebrating his 100th birthday.
The clubhouse at Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart, Fla., where the PGA Life Member has given lessons since 1989, hosted 270 guests. Many of them waited in line to greet the second longest serving PGA Professional and the last of the original 1934 Masters field.
Eighteen PGA Professionals joined in the festivities, including PGA Honorary President Jim Remy and District 5 Director Bruce Patterson of Oak Brook, Ill., who once served under Ball at Butler National Golf Club.
Ball arrived at his party with his wife of 73 years, Maxie, whom he met while on a cruise back to America. Born Nov. 14, 1910, in Bangor, Wales, Ball became the youngest to compete in the Open Championship at age 16, and became friends with Jones, who later invited him to compete in the inaugural Masters.
Ball wore a royal blue blazer, a hearing aid, glasses and used a cane after a fall suffered in his home during the summer hospitalized him for over a month caused issues with his equilibrium. He continues to teach while seated in a golf car.
"I'm anxious to get back to work this week," he smiled. "Anybody got my lesson book?"
According to Willoughby Golf Club Director of Golf Gerry Knebels, an assistant in the 1980s when Ball was nearing the end of his career at Butler National, Errie was apologetic recently for having to be driven to Willoughby to give lessons.
"I want to go back and renew my driver's license," Ball said to Knebels.
"All I could say at the moment was, 'Well, you do your best, Errie,' " said Knebels. "He is incredible."
Ball's indefatigable spirit of independence and commitment to the game carried him from his first day of PGA of America membership, June 20, 1931. He applied while an apprentice at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. His uncle, Frank, was head professional at the club and witness to Errie's application. The initial fee was five dollars.
"Frank took half of that," joked Ball.
The PGA of America presented Ball with a framed gift, containing a copy of his membership application that was surrounded by images of his teaching career.
"Errie, you have been an inspiration to so many young professionals and thousands of amateur golfers whom you have guided over the years," said Remy. "The PGA of America and the game of golf salute you."
Remy preceded the presentation by reading a roll call of the professionals in attendance, many of whom had been under Ball's wing. When Ball took the microphone, he deftly disguised his nervousness by mixing in his only return trip to the Masters in 1957, and his love for his home club.
"I feel that I have been called to the first tee at the [Augusta] National," he said, "I hear my name called, 'Errie Ball, Willoughby Golf Club, Stuart, Florida. Play away.' "
When Ball arrived for a group photo with his disciples, the pitch in his voice rose.
"There's all my boys," he said.
One of Ball's "boys," PGA Life Member Bill Erfurth, an assistant to Ball at Oak Park in 1955 and 1956 and the longtime professional at Skokie (Ill.) Country Club, told a story to the audience.
He recalled the time Ball and friend Chuck Gamble went to a local driving range and Ball signed up for a lesson. Ball dribbled the first few shots like a hacker, then obeyed the professional's instruction. The tips took. He hit the ball a little better. In the brief span of a 30-minute lesson, Ball suddenly started smacking drives like the professional he is.
"This young pro was beside himself," Erfurth said. "He thought he'd performed a miracle."
Ball left without giving away their secret.