Samuel Henry Ball hasnt discovered the fountain of youth,but the secret to his longevity,he said,is simple: a Dewars on the rocks each day and a happy marriage.
Who can argue? Ball,better known as Errie,is 102 and had his drivers license renewed two years ago. Im starting to feel my age, he said. Ball is the last surviving competitor from the inaugural Augusta National Invitational Tournament,as the Masters was called in 1934. Golf was in his blood. Born on November 14,1910,in Wales,Ball learned the game at Lancaster Golf Club in England,where his father,W.H. Ball was the professional. His great-uncle was an 8-time winner of the British Amateur and the 1890 British Open.
In 1926,Ball qualified for the Open as a teenager. There,he first witnessed Bobby Jones,who later co-founded the Masters,strike a golf ball. His swing was poetry in motion, Ball said.
With his Uncle Frank recruiting him to come to America and work as his assistant at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta four years later,Ball landed in New York the same day Jones won the U.S. Amateur.
In 1936,while making an eight-day trip across the Atlantic,Ball met a Virginia girl,Maxie Wright. She was engaged. So was he. No matter,they were married two months later. Shes 98 and remains the brightest light in his life. The memories flood back,but the name of the ship? It was so long ago he cant remember.
It may be the Mayflower, he joked.
The details of the first Masters,however,are etched in his memory. Heading into the final round,Ball stood in a tie for 22nd place. Ball figured a round of par or better would get him invited back next year. He began with a couple of pars,and then crouched over a 15-foot birdie putt.
Ball has not forgotten how it all went wrong. His putter froze,and when he finally pulled the blade back,he smacked the ball clear across the green. Four shaky putts later,he had carded a six.
I blew it, he said. Shot 86. That was the highest score of the week. He plummeted to a tie for 38th.