Born Hoylake, Cheshire (1861 to 1940). John Ball was the first Englishman and the first of only three amateurs to win the Open, sharing with Bobby Jones the distinction of winning the Open and Amateur Championships in the same year.
He first entered the Open in 1878 when, aged 16, he was fifth, a remarkable feat by so young a competitor. Surprisingly, he entered only once more (in 1885, when he did not return his cards) before the 1890 Open. Ball’s play at Prestwick was extremely steady, his driving long and straight and his accurate shots to the greens taking the strain off his putting. He had two rounds of 82, four nines in 41 each and no really poor holes. With four holes to play, he knew he had to finish in 20 strokes to win and found the task easy, winning by three. An 11 at the Road hole the following year put him out of contention at St Andrews but he came close again in 1892 at Muirfield. Leading after three rounds, he then had to give way to the brilliance of Harold Hilton, a fellow member of Royal Liverpool whose first headquarters had been in Hoylake’ s Royal Hotel, owned by Ball’s father.
The Open was far less important to Ball than the Amateur Championship in which he competed from its founding in 1885 until 1921, apart from a three-year break while serving in the Boer War. He won a record eight titles between 1888 and 1912, was runner-up twice, and in the all-time rankings of amateur golf only Bobby Jones can be considered his superior.
Open Champions at Prestwick
Extract taken from “British Open Champions” by Michael Hobbs 1991.