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Lone living participant from first Masters grateful for golf's many gifts

By Tim Rosaforte

From the Dec. 2 edition of Golf World Monday:

Impeccably attired as always, Errie Ball wore a gray cardigan to match his trousers and a white golf shirt with the Willoughby GC "W" on his chest when we sat down in his living room the day after Thanksgiving. The longest lifetime member of the PGA and the only living participant in the 1934 Masters was full of energy and in a cheery mood as he answered questions about his 103-year-old life in a charming but proper Welsh accent.

With the 80th anniversary of the first Masters coming up in April, Ball is all that's left on this earth from Bobby Jones' original invitation list. When a man lives that long and experiences that much in golf and life, you have to start by asking what he's most thankful for. That was the purpose of the visit.

Related: Little-known facts about the Masters

After saying it was a hard question to answer, Ball answered without hesitation. "I'm thankful for the fact I live in America and the many, many friends I have in the golf world," he says. "I couldn't ask for more."

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If Ball did ask for more, it might be to get back on the lesson tee at the Stuart Yacht & CC near his home in Stuart, Fla., or nearby at Willoughby, where he is pro emeritus. Ball has been watching golf on TV, and there's a move he would like to try out himself.

Sean Foley and some of the new-age teachers will love this observation--especially coming from a man who played his first British Open at age 15.

"Today, they keep more weight on their left side, their left foot," Ball said. "They don't shift their weight to the right like we did. With the weight on the left side, they give it a big shoulder turn and that creates a lot of power. In my day we had to shift our weight to make up for it."

Ball smiled, as he does to punctuate most of his thoughts. He is keenly sharp and observant. A heart condition has created balance issues, so he has been swinging in his head with this image since turning 100.

"I've been wanting to try that move, but I haven't been able to get on the practice tee," he said. "But I've been thinking about it a lot. I would like to try it."

Sitting beside him, Ball's wife of 77 years was smiling too. Maxie and Errie met on a ship returning from the 1936 British Open and have been inseparable ever since. His daughter, son-in-law, great-granddaughter and great-great-grandson, 10-month old Terrance Alexander, were also in the room.

When I asked the keys to living so long, Ball said plenty of exercise, minimal drinking and good thoughts. When I asked what those good thoughts were, Ball smiled again.

Related: The most heartbreaking Masters moments

"The nice things that have happened to me in my life so far," he said. "I have a good family around me to help me, particularly now that I'm a little bit under the weather, but I hope to get over that soon."

There is a movement within the PGA to get Ball back to the Masters, have him stand by the tree behind the clubhouse and soak it all in. Ball may take a pass, preferring to watch from the comfort of his living room and remember what it was like in 1934 and 1957, when he was re-invited back to Augusta by Jones. Those were some of the good thoughts that have kept Ball young at any age.