Peter Ball’s work in inner cities has seen him given the PGA’s highest honour. The newly minted Master Professional reveals how he makes a difference…
At Moor View Golf Centre – the Bradway driving range a short journey from Sheffield city centre – they’ve given Peter Ball a new nickname. “They’ve started calling me Yoda,” laughs the veteran pro, who has been inspiring youngsters to reach their golfing potential for decades. “They think it’s about time people working at the other end of the spectrum get recognised.”
“’Yoda will know what to do’. The lads have been ribbing me a little bit but they are proud I have received Master Professional status.
You won’t find Ball at a plush private members’ club or out on tour coaching the world’s best. But he has proved it is at the sharp end that you can really make a difference. What Ball does – not that he would ever admit it – is change people’s lives.
“I’ve just finished the Special Olympics,” he reveals, “and the first two medals went to a lad called Jack. “He is autistic and I’ve been teaching him for about two years. He didn’t take them off all night. His language is very limited. You don’t know what he is feeling. But his face lit up like a beacon (when he received the medals) and it was incredible to look at.”
James is also on the autistic spectrum and picked up a silver medal at those same games. It took him 13 years to play his first hole of golf. “To get him to play a hole took a lot of encouragement,” Ball explains. “But he now goes to play on different courses and he will socialise in the clubhouse. That makes me smile.
“He went on holiday, took his clubs and played in Wales. To go to a location and do something that enables the family to have a holiday is incredible. “It’s an incredible change in the way his life is. His family life has changed. “They can do things they couldn’t before. They can go to places they couldn’t before. “That’s making a real difference.”
That ‘difference’ came about as a result of the Sheffield Inclusive Golf project, which provides accessible and inclusive sessions for young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
From there, the Special Olympics Golf Club was formed – to give these youngsters the chance to take part in the Special Olympics National Games that were held in the steel city.
It was work which landed Ball the Golf Foundation’s prestigious Burroughs Award and has also seen him join an elite band, one that includes the likes of Bob Torrance and Pete Cowen, as a Master Professional.
Ball has had a hand in the career of many professionals over the years but the one he’s always asked about is Danny Willett, whom he coached as a teenager when he worked at Birley Wood in the city.
“Danny (Willett) would always make it. Jack could not have achieved without a huge amount of support” – Peter Ball
He remembers: “It’s common knowledge that Danny would come from the moment he finished school until it was pitch black. “My last class in the winter used to finish at 3.15pm and I would have an after school class.
“He would be here by then and, when I was clearing up and trying to put things away, he would still be here and I’d be teaching him. “At 6.30pm, my wife used to phone and ask what had happened to me. “In those days it was common to be in from 4.30 in the morning to 10.30 at night.”
Ball, though, refuses to take any credit – either for the long hours he spent with Willett, or the success the latter went on to have, culminating in his 2016 Masters victory. “If you have a young person that wants that help, you have to be there to create that opportunity. You can’t go home.
“That could be the difference between them carrying on or not carrying on. You have to go the extra mile. (But) I get more satisfaction from seeing what Jack has achieved than what Danny has achieved. Danny would always make it. Jack could not have achieved without a huge amount of support.”
When you talk to Ball, you immediately feel his energy, passion for the game and enthusiasm. It’s hard not to get swept along. “I just enjoy what I do. I have been blessed to do what I do. Somehow, people seem to be inspired by some of the things I have said about and to them.
“I just talk to young people and see what they want and see how I can help them and talk about their lives. A few months ago, I was driving along the road and I saw a few young people having a bit of a chat with a police officer.
“I stopped the car and walked across. No one knows me – I’m just the golf coach down the road. I asked the lads if they were having some problems finding things to do.
They said ‘we’re in the wrong place’. I asked them ‘why not come and hit a few golf balls? The police officer looked at me and I told him I’m a golf pro – that’s my game. I said if they were here at so and so at night, they would get some free golf lessons.
They turned up. Sometimes you have just got to be in the right place at the right time.”