John Ball JR was the first great amateur golfer. He was both the first Englishman and the first amateur to win The Open at Prestwick in 1890.
The son of the manager of the Royal Hotel at Hoylake, he grew up playing on the links of Royal Liverpool. Aged 16 he finished joint fourth in The Open in 1878 and received ten shillings.
When Royal Liverpool instituted the first Amateur Championship in 1885, there was doubt whether their star player could compete but a statute of limitations was applied.
He would win the Amateur eight times between 1888 and 1912. In 1890 he won the title at Hoylake and then completed the double at Prestwick – only Bobby Jones in 1930 has repeated the feat of winning the Amateur and The Open in the same year.
Ball beat a strong field at Prestwick, winning by two three from former Champion Willie Fernie and Archie Simpson, with Willie Park Jnr, who had won two of the previous three Opens, and Andrew Kirkaldy in fourth place.
Two years later at Muirfield, Ball led going into the last round but was beaten by his fellow club member, Harold Hilton, the only other British amateur to win The Open. Ball possessed a remarkably beautiful swing and was able to regulate the height he hit the ball depending on the conditions.
He was such a good striker, and so accurate, that he regularly aiming directly at the target, rather than being happy to find the green. Hilton said of Ball that he was “looked upon as a phenomenon whose play could only be admired, not imitated”.
He spent three years fighting in the Boer War and aged 60 still reached the last 16 of the Amateur. He was made an honorary member of the R&A and retired to a farm in North Wales.