Imagine talking to a person who played in the first Masters in 1934, a Welsh-born friend of Bob Jones who came to America at Jones’ urging in 1930.
I talked to him a few weeks ago. His name is Errie Ball. He’s 97 and lives in Florida with his wife of 70-plus years.
Errie is the last surviving player who participated in the inaugural Masters. And that’s not all. Errie is reportedly the youngest player to ever compete in the British Open, playing in the 1926 Open Championship at the age of 16, or 82 years ago. Talking to Errie Ball is like stepping into a golf time machine.
The $1 Bet
I tracked down Errie after hearing a U.S. Open qualifying story from Jack Fleck. Jack had played in the 36-hole sectional qualifier at Lincolnshire Country Club near Chicago, but was convinced his score of 146 wouldn’t hold up.
Also at the qualifier, Errie said he thought 146 was in, and bet Jack a buck. Errie was right, and a week later Jack Fleck pulled off one of the greatest upsets in golf and sports history, beating Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic in San Francisco.
I asked Errie what he remembered about the exchange with Jack Fleck more than 50 years ago.
“I was driving out of the clubhouse and you made a circle there, and it was close to the putting green. Jack was on the putting green. I said, ‘How did you do?’
“Jack said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to qualify.’
“I said, ‘I’ll bet you a dollar you qualify.’
“He said, ‘Well there’s some players still out. I’m just hanging around here putting, just to keep loose.’
“I said, ‘I still bet a dollar that you make it.’ As I drove around and was going home, I said, ‘I’ll see you in San Francisco.’”
And Errie Ball did see him in San Francisco, although, according to Jack, Errie would never accept the dollar.
I asked Errie if he ever saw Jack over the years.
“I haven’t seen Jack in a long time,” Errie said. “But I used to see him when he was playing in Chicago and he’d come up to play in a tournament. We were very fond of one another.”
“I’ll be talking to him,” I said.
“He still owes me a dollar,” Errie said, chuckling.
I’ll share more of my conversation with Errie Ball, including his stories about the Masters, British Open and Bob Jones, in the weeks and months to come.
The Armchair Golfer