John Ball dominated amateur golf in Great Britain the way Bob Jones did in the United States. He won eight British Amateur championships, The Open and the hearts and respect of his country. In the words of British golf historian Donald Steele, “No golfer ever came to be more of a legend in his own lifetime.” He was the first amateur golfer in England to be named by the Royal Empire as an Immortal.
In 1878, at the age of 17, Ball finished fifth in The Open at Prestwick. His run of Amateur titles began in 1888 and stretched until 1912, when he was 51 years old. His best year was 1890, when he won both the British Amateur and The Open Championships. Jones, who won the Grand Slam in 1930, is the only other golfer in history to win those two tournaments in the same year.
Although he gripped the club tightly in the palms of both hands, Ball’s swing was the most graceful and stylish of his era. Bernard Darwin wrote, “I have derived greater aesthetic and emotional pleasure from watching John Ball than from any other spectacle in the game.”
Ball learned the game competing against Harold Hilton on the links at Hoylake. In 1876, at the age of 15, he competed in his first Open Championship and finished sixth at St. Andrews.