Monday, March 31
Errie Ball: Last Man Standing from First Masters
No. 13 at Augusta National Golf Club. (Wally Baba/Flickr)
On the trail of a golf story from yesteryear, I stumbled across Errie Ball, a Welsh-born pro who was befriended by Bobby Jones at the 1930 British Open and soon after came to America to be assistant pro at East Lake, Jones’ home course in Atlanta, Georgia.
I learned Errie, age 97, was the last surviving player from the first Masters in 1934 won by Horton Smith. I called him one afternoon in January at his Florida home.
“What was it like playing in that first Masters?” I asked.
“The first Masters, they were having a lot of trouble getting off to a good start,” Errie said. “It was like a friendly deal. I didn’t feel too scared or nervous at all in the first one because it was more relaxed. Bob Jones made it that way.”
Jones wasn’t the only thing that helped keep things loose.
“There was a lot of liquor floating around,” he added. “Of course, in those days, I didn’t drink anyway.”
It was far different the next time Errie teed it up at Augusta National.
“When I played it again in 1957 it was a different story. It was really big time.”
I’d be surprised if any living person has played with more golf champions from past generations than Errie Ball. In addition to Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, Errie later played with golf greats Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan.
In fact, Errie goes so far back I had to ask, “Did you ever meet Harry Vardon?”
“No,” he said. “I saw him in the distance and watched him. My father was a good friend of Harry Vardon. He had a beautiful swing. I know that.”
Errie has seen hundreds of swings in his 97 years and still spends time on the practice tee.
“I’ve had a couple of operations, which has taken me off the golf course and I haven’t really played 18 holes in two years,” he said.
“But I’ve hit a lot of balls on the practice tee and still give a few lessons. I’m feeling a lot better now and I think I’ll probably start playing soon.”
−The Armchair Golfer
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