John Ball (golfer)

John Ball

Ball as caricatured in Vanity Fair, March 1892
Personal information
Full name John Ball, Jr.
Born (1861-12-24)24 December 1861
Hoylake, England
Died 2 December 1940(1940-12-02) (aged 78)
Holywell, Wales
Nationality  England
Status Amateur
Best results in major championships
(wins: 9)
The Open Championship Won: 1890
British Amateur Won: 1888, 1890, 1892, 1894, 1899, 1907, 1910, 1912
Achievements and awards
World Golf Hall of Fame 1977 (member page)

John Ball, Jr. (24 December 1861 – 2 December 1940) was an English amateur golfer of the late 19th and early 20th century.[1]

Early life

Ball was born in Hoylake, Cheshire (now Merseyside). His father was the prosperous owner of the Royal Hotel, located near the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, in Hoylake. Ball grew up playing golf as a youth on the Royal Liverpool course, which was established in his early boyhood.[2]

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 Amateur and Open Championships. Bobby Jones, who won the Grand Slam in 1930, is the only other golfer in history to win those two tournaments in the same year.

Golf career

After winning The Amateur Championship in 1888, Ball became the first English-born player to win The Open Championship in 1890,[3] and in the same year won his second Amateur, the first to win both titles in the same year. Ball subsequently won the 1892, 1894, 1899, 1907, 1910, and 1912 Amateurs, a record eight titles in all, in addition to two runner-up finishes. Ball retired with a 99–22 record (81.8%) at The Amateur Championship. Ball was also runner-up in the 1892 Open Championship, finishing three strokes behind Harold Hilton.

Ball dominated amateur golf in Great Britain. He won all the important golf championships as well as 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.

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 1878, at the age of 16, he competed in his first Open Championship and finished fourth at Prestwick.

Ball mounted on horseback during the Second Boer War, c.1901

Ball was famous for refusing to carry a niblick, which had the loft of a modern-day 8- or 9-iron. He scorned the use of that club, describing it as "another bloody spade," and admonished the Rules of Golf Committee of the Royal and Ancient for permitting such horrid-looking contraptions to be allowed in competition. In a bunker, Ball would simply lay open the blade of a mid-iron and float the ball toward the hole with a smooth swing.

It was this stubbornness and dogged determination that made Ball such a lion in match play. Darwin once noted that Ball had "a strong vein of hostility and if he wanted a particular player's blood, he would fight his way through a tournament with the sole object of getting at him." Darwin added, "That was not a personal hostility, but rather a desire to measure himself against a foe really worthy of him."

Words from Ball are hard to find. He was a shy man who went about his business without wasted motion. In his book, Sixty Years of Golf, Robert Harris wrote that "John's soft, whispering voice, his stoicism, his pawky jibs at easy rules and innovations, his relentless criticism of moderns with their fuss, and his total outlook on the game, were the very essence of golf."

Death and legacy

Ball died in Holywell, Wales on 2 December 1940.[4] Ball served his country during the Second Boer War. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977.

Tournament wins (59)

Note: This list may be incomplete.

Major championships

Professional wins (1)

YearChampionship18 holesWinning scoreMarginRunners-up
1890 The Open Championship 1 shot deficit 82-82=164 3 strokes Scotland Willie Fernie, Scotland Archie Simpson

Amateur wins (8)

YearChampionshipWinning ScoreRunner-up
1888 The Amateur Championship 5 & 4 Scotland Johnny Laidlay
1890 The Amateur Championship 4 & 3 Scotland Johnny Laidlay
1892 The Amateur Championship 3 & 1 England Harold Hilton
1894 The Amateur Championship 1 up Scotland Samuel Mure Fergusson
1899 The Amateur Championship 37 holes Scotland Frederick Guthrie Tait
1907 The Amateur Championship 6 & 4 England C. A. Palmer
1910 The Amateur Championship 10 & 9 England C. C. Aylmer
1912 The Amateur Championship 38 holes England Abe Mitchell

Results timeline

Note: Ball played in only The Open Championship and The Amateur Championship.

Tournament 1878 1879
The Open Championship T4 LA DNP
The Amateur Championship NYF NYF
Tournament 1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886 1887 1888 1889
The Amateur Championship NYF NYF NYF NYF NYF SF SF 2 1 SF
Tournament 1890 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899
The Open Championship 1 LA T11 T2 T8 T13 T18 DNP 17 DNP T25
The Amateur Championship 1 R32 1 R16 1 2 QF R64 QF 1
Tournament 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909
The Open Championship DNP DNP T15 DNP 18 DNP T35 T15 T13 LA DNP
The Amateur Championship DNP DNP R64 QF R16 R128 R64 1 R128 R128
Tournament 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919
The Open Championship T19 LA CUT DNP DNP DNP NT NT NT NT NT
The Amateur Championship 1 R32 1 R256 R64 NT NT NT NT NT
Tournament 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927
The Amateur Championship DNP R16 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP R128

LA = Low Amateur
NYF = Tournament not yet founded
NT = No tournament
DNP = Did not play
WD = Withdrew
"T" indicates a tie for a place
DNQ = Did not qualify for match play portion
R256, R128, R64, R32, R16, QF, SF = Round in which player lost in match play
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10


Source for Open Championship:

Source for 1885 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 24 April 1885, pg. 8.

Source for 1886 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 24 September 1886, pg. 5.

Source for 1889 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 10 May 1889, pg. 10.

Source for 1891 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 8 May 1891, pg. 10.

Source for 1893 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 11 May 1893, pg. 12.

Source for 1896 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 22 May 1896, pg. 10.

Source for 1897 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 28 April 1897, pg. 10.

Source for 1898 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 27 May 1898, pg. 11.

Source for 1902 Amateur: Golf, June 1902, pg. 397.

Source for 1903 Amateur: Golf, July 1903, pg. 10.

Source for 1904 Amateur: Golf, July 1904, pg. 8.

Source for 1905 Amateur: Golf, June 1905, pg. 340.

Source for 1906 Amateur: Golf, July 1906, pg. 29.

Source for 1908 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 27 May 1908, pg. 14.

Source for 1909 Amateur: The American Golfer, Jul, 1909, pg. 11.

Source for 1911 Amateur: The Glasgow Herald, 1 June 1911, pg. 10.

Source for 1913 Amateur: The American Golfer, July 1913, pg. 222.

Source for 1914 Amateur: Golf Illustrated, July 1914, pg. 27.

Source for 1921 Amateur: The American Golfer, 4 June 1921, pg. 24.

Source for 1927 Amateur: The American Golfer, July 1927, pg. 66.


  1. Alliss, Peter (1983). The Who's Who of Golf. Orbis Publishing. pp. 206–7. ISBN 0-85613-520-8.
  2. Wind, Herbert Warren; Cooke, Alistair; Thomson, Peter (1988). The World Atlas of Golf (2nd ed.). London: Mitchell Beazely.
  3. "1890 John Ball Jr (A)". The Open. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  4. "John Ball: Fifty years of golf championships". The Glasgow Herald. 4 December 1940. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Bauchope, C. Robertson, ed. (1888). The Golfing Annual, 1887–88. London: Horace Cox. pp. 178–9.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Duncan, David Scott, ed. (1890). The Golfing Annual, 1889–90. London: Horace Cox. pp. 204–5, 246.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Duncan, David Scott, ed. (1893). The Golfing Annual, 1892–93. London: Horace Cox. p. 245.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Duncan, David Scott, ed. (1894). The Golfing Annual, 1893–94. London: Horace Cox. pp. 69–71, 292–3.
  9. 1 2 3 Duncan, David Scott, ed. (1900). The Golfing Annual, 1899–1900. London: Horace Cox. pp. 64–7, 292–3, 335.
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