| Fi­nal Shot

In mem­ory of Peter Thom­son, a true ti­tan of the game, a five-time win­ner of the Open Cham­pi­onship.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Louie Chan

Con­sid­ered one of Aus­tralia’s great­est golfers, Thom­son as­sisted with the ren­o­va­tion of the Old Course and was also in­volved in de­sign­ing the Eden Course. He played in the first Hong Kong Open held at Fan­ling in 1959, go­ing to win the tour­na­ment in 1960, 1965 and 1967. In his let­ter dated May 15 this year, Thom­son wrote to land sup­ply task force chair­man Stan­ley Wong Yuen-fai urg­ing him to spare what he la­belled “an in­cred­i­bly spe­cial place in the world of golf”.

“I do not wish to make light of Hong Kong’s need for pub­lic hous­ing. Clearly, this is a sig­nif­i­cant and im­por­tant is­sue that needs to be ad­dressed and over­come.

“But it should not be at the ex­pense of what is un­doubt­edly a his­tor­i­cal and world-class golf­ing venue. I feel a close affin­ity with the city and the Hong Kong Golf Club it­self.

“Let me state clearly: the Hong Kong Golf Club is an in­cred­i­bly spe­cial place in the world of golf. Not only is it his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant – its cour­ses, no­tably the Old Course, are ar­chi­tec­tural gems that have been laid out over pris­tine, an­cient ter­rain – but its role as the fo­cal point for all of Hong Kong golf can­not be un­der­stated.”

The Aus­tralian leg­end fur­ther ad­dressed a num­ber of “false­hoods” about pub­lic ac­cess to Fan­ling.

“While it is a pri­vate mem­bers’ club, it is one of the most open mem­bers’ clubs any­where in the world, with over 40 per cent of rounds played by non-mem­bers.

“It has been at the very epi­cen­tre of golf’s de­vel­op­ment in Hong Kong, al­low­ing count­less young­sters an op­por­tu­nity to get their start in the game and grow into ac­com­plished play­ers.

“Fur­ther­more, as the home of the Hong Kong Open – un­ques­tion­ably one of the most sig­nif­i­cant golf tour­na­ments in all of Asia – the club has en­hanced Hong Kong’s rep­u­ta­tion as a bona fide sport­ing cen­tre.”

Thom­son also high­lighted Fan­ling’s sta­tus as a “vi­tal green lung”, be­fore fin­ish­ing:

“Let me end this let­ter by be­ing frank with you. Take away the Hong Kong Golf Club and the game of golf, and in­deed Hong Kong it­self, will be a much poorer place.”

Thom­son, who was the first Aus­tralian to win the Open Cham­pi­onship at age 24 and won 84 pro­fes­sional events, re­turned to the city in 2008 to cel­e­brate the 50th edi­tion of HK Open. HK Golfer’s Alex Jenk­ins had an in­ter­view with the Hall of Fame golfer at Shek O Coun­try Club. Be­low are some of his forth­right opin­ions on var­i­ous top­ics.

ON LINKS GOLF:

“Golf, like sail­ing, needs wind,” says the man who, in 1965, bested a field which in­cluded Nick­laus, Palmer and Player to lift the Claret Jug for the fifth time. “What I don’t re­ally like about the cour­ses the pro­fes­sion­als play to­day is that they’re all the same. You can play one week in Amer­ica and the next in China, and the con­di­tions are the same. It’s the same type of grass, and they play the same way - too soft. There’s no chal­lenge in that. Links cour­ses, if pre­pared prop­erly, are firm and bare and the wind is nor­mally a fac­tor. It’s the purest form of the game there is.”

ON MOD­ERN GOLF BALL TECH­NOL­OGY:

“A lot of skill has been taken out of the game be­cause of the ball and the sheer num­ber of dim­ples it has now. It isn’t af­fected by the wind as much, it flies so far, and it’s easy to spin, which makes the short game a bit one di­men­sional. You don’t of­ten see play­ers run­ning shots up to the flag any­more. Royal Mel­bourne is the best course we have in Aus­tralia, but it’s al­most de­fence­less nowa­days. Limit the num­ber of dim­ples, and you solve the prob­lem. But hav­ing said that, it’s hard to ar­gue with the re­sults. The best player is still win­ning.”

ON SLOW PLAY AND THE LACK OF KNOWL­EDGE SUR­ROUND­ING THE RULES:

“We used to take three hours and 15 min­utes when play­ing in three balls,” he re­mem­bers. “[Bobby] Locke was ac­cused of be­ing a slow player, but he would take three hours and 20 min­utes. Now a player doesn’t even have to know the rules be­cause they’re en­cour­aged to call in rules of­fi­cials at ev­ery turn. We never got into tan­gles; the play­ers used to watch each other. Rule 6.7, which gov­erns un­due de­lay, should be para­mount. If a player says ‘I want a rul­ing be­cause I don’t know what to do’ then 15 min­utes passes be­fore it’s sorted out and he plays his shot. If that isn’t slow play, I don’t know what is.”

ON THE IM­POR­TANCE OF RHYTHM:

“[Sam] Snead was the best. I used to love watch­ing him play. He was in­cred­i­bly fit, too. Peo­ple talk about how fit Tiger Woods is, but Snead was just as fit and in­cred­i­bly flex­i­ble as well.”

Thom­son scored his first vic­tory as a pro in 1950 when he cap­tured the first of his nine New Zealand Open cham­pi­onships. He was among four golfers with five Bri­tish Open tri­umphs, and a to­tal ex­ceeded only by Harry Var­don’s six.

His only vic­tory on the reg­u­lar PGA Tour came in 1956 at the Texas In­ter­na­tional Open. He was fourth in the 1956 U.S. Open and fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played in the U.S. PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Thom­son had largely for­saken com­pet­i­tive golf by the late 1970s in favour of de­sign­ing cour­ses and mak­ing a foray into pol­i­tics. He nar­rowly lost a bid for a seat in the Vic­to­ria State Par­lia­ment in Aus­tralia in 1982.

How­ever, Amer­ica’s Se­nior Tour (now the Cham­pi­ons Tour), which be­gan play in 1980, pro­vided a new and lu­cra­tive chal­lenge. Thom­son won the U.S. PGA Se­niors Cham­pi­onship in 1984. His nine se­nior vic­to­ries in 1985, a sin­gle-sea­son mark matched only by Hale Ir­win 12 years later, put him atop the year’s earn­ings list with $386,000 in prize money, a record at the time.

Thom­son was the non­play­ing cap­tain of the in­ter­na­tional team that de­feated the United States in the 1998 Pres­i­dents Cup at the Royal Mel­bourne Golf Club, and he was cap­tain in its los­ing ef­forts in 1996 and 2000. He was pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian P.G.A. from 1962 to 1994 and was in­ducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988.

In his later years, he con­cen­trated on in­ter­na­tional golf course de­sign as a direc­tor of Thom­son, Per­rett & Lobb (now Thom­son Per­rett).

Peter Thom­son with our Pub­lisher Charles McLaugh­lin

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