Errie Ball Passes Away at 103

"Errie" Ball, who played in the inaugural Masters of 1934 and went on to become the PGA of America's oldest and longest-serving member, died July 2 at Martin Hospital South in Stuart, Fla., at the age of 103.

Samuel Henry "Errie" Ball was surrounded by his family at the time of his death.

The native Welshman was encouraged to join the PGA by legendary golfer Bobby Jones, the co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club. Ball received his PGA membership on June 20, 1931, and his 83 years of service is an association record for all-time membership. In 2011, Ball was inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame.

In addition to the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament, which in 1939 became the Masters, Ball competed in 25 major championships and 19 Senior PGA Championships. His highest finish in the latter event was a tie for second in 1962.

Ball's reputation flourished away from tournaments, however, as he taught generations of players and inspired young professionals to pursue careers as PGA members. Even on his 100th birthday as the PGA Professional Emeritus at Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart, Fla., he gave lessons.

"The PGA of America is saddened by the passing of Errie Ball, a professional in all aspects of life," said PGA of America President Ted Bishop. "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. Each day, like each step he took on the course, was spent with purpose. We will miss him dearly, but his legacy continues to shine through the many PGA professionals he inspired to grow our game."

Born in Bangor, Wales, Ball was introduced to golf by his father, William Henry Ball, who spent 50 years as the professional at Lancaster Golf Club. Ball's great uncle, John Ball, was the first amateur to win the Open Championship (1890), along with eight British Amateur Championships.

Errie Ball began playing golf at age 10, and turned pro at age 17. Many could never correctly pronounce his nickname, whose genesis came through his family.

"My father's name was William Henry Ball. Back in those days, Henry became 'Harry,' " said Ball, prior to his 100th birthday party. "My mother, from what they tell me, didn't like the fact that they would be calling my father Old Harry and me Young Harry. We had a French maid at that time, and she said, 'Why don't you call him 'Errie?' And I've gone by that ever since. I wouldn't turn around if you called me Sam."

As for his experience playing in the first official event at Augusta National, Ball recalled earlier this year, "I thought it [the Masters] was the greatest, the best place that I could be in golf," said Ball.

"Because it was associated with Bob Jones, I knew it would be a success. I loved playing golf with Bob because he had such a great golf swing and I wanted to copy it. I learned to be gracious from him. He seemed like he shook hands with everybody with a smile."

Ball served many positions as a club and teaching professional. His first job was as an assistant for his uncle, Frank Ball, the head professional at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta. Ball later assisted George Sargent, who became PGA of America president. In 1933, Ball received a letter of recommendation from Jones that elevated him to his first head professional post at Mobile (Alabama) Country Club.

He was the PGA head professional from 1937-42 at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va., before being drafted by the U.S. Navy. After World War II, Ball became he head pro at Oak Park (Illinois) Country Club, and would serve there for 24 years, while spending 20 winters teaching at Tucson (Arizona) Country Club. He spent one winter (1962) as PGA director of golf at John's Island in Vero Beach, Fla.

In 1972, Ball became the first head professional and later director of golf at Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook, Ill. Bruce Patterson, who worked briefly for Ball, succeeded him as PGA director of golf at Butler National in 1982.

"That 'tree line' of developing future professionals was very important to him," said Patterson. "Everyone Errie touched came away feeling better about themselves. If you had a bad day, just being around Errie, your day became better. Golf has suffered one of its big losses. He was one of the game's treasures."

Ball is survived by his wife, Maxie, a daughter, Leslie, of Miami; brothers Tom, of South Africa and John, of Lancaster, England; and two granddaughters and a great grandson. Funeral/memorial arrangements have yet to be announced.