In just a few months, Maxie and her husband Samuel would have celebrated their 78th wedding anniversary. It takes a special and true love to live a life together for that long. Sadly, Samuel passed away on July 2nd.
Golf enthusiasts and historians don't know Samuel by his given name. We instead know him as Errie Ball. Samuel Henry "Errie" Ball was the last of the inaugural Masters field of 1934 and the PGA of America's oldest and longest serving member. He passed away at Martin Hospital South in Stuart, surrounded by his family. He was 103 years young.
A native of Bangor, Wales, Ball began his PGA career through the encouragement of legendary golfer Bobby Jones. He was elected to PGA membership in 1931, and his 83 years of service is a PGA membership record. In 2011, Ball was inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame. I have to ask, "Why take so long?"
Ball taught generations of players and inspired young professionals to pursue careers as PGA members. As PGA Professional Emeritus at Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart, he often gave lessons well past his centennial birthday.
I remember playing there once with my late friend, Mike Murphy. Ball was on the practice tee when we arrived to warm up. We immediately recognized him and he was happy to strike up a conversation. He was quick-witted, and friendly. I asked him if he had any pointers for me after watching me hit a few balls. He answered with a wink and a smile, "Do you know where the tennis courts are?"
"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. We will miss him dearly, but his legacy continues to shine through the many PGA Professionals he inspired to grow our game."
Born to one of Great Britain's famed golf families, Ball was introduced to the game by his father, William Henry Ball, who spent 50 years as golf 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.
Ball began playing golf at age 10, and turned professional at 17. Many could never correctly pronounce his nickname, so he was quick to share a family story.
"My father's name was William Henry Ball. Back in those days, Henry became 'Harry,'" Ball once explained. "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."
Ball first met Bobby Jones at the 1930 Open Championship in Hoylake, England, where Jones would win one leg of his Grand Slam. The relationship continued when Ball arrived in America, just as Jones clinched the Grand Slam with a victory in the U.S. Amateur.
Ball's first job was serving for his uncle, Frank Ball, then the PGA head professional at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta. In 1933, Ball received a letter of recommendation from Jones that elevated him to his first head professional post at Mobile Country Club.
"I thought [the Masters] was the greatest, the best place that I could be in golf," said Ball of Jones' invite to play in that inaugural Augusta National Invitational, as he watched this year's Masters 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."
In 1936, Ball tied for 23rd in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake. A few weeks later, on July 21, Ball was a passenger aboard the M.V. Britannic. During the eight-day voyage, he met Maxwell "Maxie" Wright of Richmond, Virginia, in a game of doubles deck tennis. By the time the ship docked in New York, their plans were set. They married two months later.
"Everyone Errie touched came away feeling better about themselves. If you had a bad day, just being around Errie, your day became better," said Bruce Patterson, a former member of the PGA Board of Directors. "Golf has suffered one of its big losses. He was one of the game's treasures."
Errie, a World War II Navy veteran, is survived by his wife, Maxie, daughter, Leslie; brothers Tom and John; and two granddaughters and a great grandson.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.