(Reuters) - Samuel Henry “Errie” Ball, the last surviving player who competed in the inaugural Masters Tournament of 1934, died on Wednesday in Stuart, Florida at the age of 103.
Born in Bangor, Wales to one of Britain’s most esteemed golfing families, Ball went on to compete in 25 major championships and became the PGA of America’s oldest and longest-serving member.
As a club professional, he taught generations of players and he was inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame in 2011.
“The PGA of America is saddened by the passing of Errie Ball, a professional in all aspects of life,” PGA of America president Ted Bishop said in a statement.
”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.”
Ball, whose father, William Henry Ball, spent 50 years as golf professional at Lancaster Golf Club, began playing the game at the age of 10 and turned professional at 17.
He first worked for his uncle, Frank Ball, who was head professional at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta. He earned his first head professional post at Mobile Country Club in Alabama after being recommended by amateur golfing great Bobby Jones.
Ball received an invitation from Jones to be part of the 72-player field in 1934 for the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament, which in 1939 became the Masters.
”I thought it (the Masters) was the greatest, the best place that I could be in golf,“ Ball said while watching this year’s edition unfold on television from his living room. ”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’s great uncle, John Ball, was the first amateur to win the British Open (in 1890) and also clinched eight British amateur championships.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue