PETER THOMPSON PASSES
We pay tribute to the great Peter Thompson
Thomson, the professional from Melbourne with his uncomplicated golf swing, turned on a masterclass that year when he finished on a seven-over par 295 total in Otago to win by five strokes from New Zealand's Frank Buckler. Charles was awestruck.
“It was an enduring and careermaking memory for me,” said Charles, who famously went on to win the New Zealand Open at Heretaunga as an 18-yearold amateur the following year. “Peter was a man to be respected and admired. Not only did his demeanour impress me but also his fluid golf swing was a thing of effortless beauty.”
Thomson would go on to win the New Zealand Open championship a staggering nine times. It is a record that still stands today and will take some beating in the modern era. In fact, the man known as “Thommo”, was a prolific tournament champion all around the world. He won the national championships of 10 countries, and most famously he was a five-time Open Champion.
Tributes poured in from golfing royalty for the champion golfer in June as Thomson lost his four year battle with Parkinson's disease and passed away in his Melbourne home surrounded by his family. He was two months shy of his 89th birthday.
“The golf world has sadly lost arguably the greatest links player in history, Australian Peter Thomson,” said American Tom Watson. “Five Open Championship titles and top-10 finishes in 18 out of 21 Open Championships (1951-71) will go down in the annals of golf's greatest achievements.”
Jason Day added; “Peter gave all Australian golfers something to aspire to both on the golf course and off it. His stamp on our game won't be forgotten.”
Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer in history with 18 major titles, said: “I always respected Peter Thomson the golfer”. Nicklaus went on to say “Later in life, I respected and appreciated Peter Thomson the man even more. Five-time Open champion, Three-time Presidents Cup captain and always a proud Australian.”
Greg Norman, the winner of two major championship, said Thomson showed all Australians what was possible on the world stage.
“There have been many individuals who have touched the game of golf but none more so than Peter Thomson in his era,” said Norman. “His success paved the way for the likes of Bruce Devlin, David Graham, Ian Baker Finch, Jason Day, Adam Scott and myself. With his passing so too has an era of golf. His life off the course deserves equal distinction.”
Gary Player and Thomson had many great battles and the South African was proud to have beaten him in the final of the PGA over 36 holes at Huntingdale.
“He was a highly intelligent man and he did an awful lot for golf. He went into Politics and was well read and in my opinion he had the greatest record of any Australian golfer. He was not only a golfer but a true ambassador for the game.”
Adam Scott said; “I think people would be surprised to know just how much Peter Thomson has influenced my career considering we are a couple of generations apart.”
The former World No 1 first met Thomson when he caddied for him when he was 10 years old. Thomson had just opened a golf course on the Sunshine Coast that he designed and a young, keen Scott took up the chance to learn from a legend. They formed a great friendship and Scott has many good memories to look back on.
He walked a whole practice round with me at the 2000 Open at St Andrews, my first major championship, and he guided me around the course.”
Scott, who famously became the first Australian to win the 2013 US Masters, said Thomson had a simple way of doing things.
“He was so naturally gifted and he wasn't caught up in all of the stuff that there is now. And for me that is a good lesson to think about how he explains things and keep things in their simplest form. He never found it that difficult and that is a good thing to think of. He deserves every honour that he has ever received. You have to be an incredible golfer to win the Open Championship five times.” →
Charles, who had the honour of playing in a legendary era of professional golf, said: “It was with great sadness I have learned of the passing of friend and fellow competitor, Peter Thomson.”
Charles said Thomson “has to be in the top 20 golfers of all time and I find it hard to keep Peter out of my personal top 10”.
“Peter along with Bobby Locke and Gary Player led the colonial charge on the world golf scene and they all contributed hugely to my life as a golf professional. I endeavoured to follow in their footsteps, but they set a very high bar.”
Thomson was born in West Brunswick in 1929, straight into the Great Depression. The strain was immense, and he remembered his mother struggling to pay the rent and his father, a sign-writer, leaving the family. “I don't know where my father went to, but he went out of sight,” he told a forum at VUT, where he was alumni, several years ago. “I was really brought up by my grandfather and my mother.”
He walked to school at Brunswick Tech and then afterward, studied on scholarship at Footscray Tech, and his mother urged him to find a vocation. It is known only by a few that Thomson turned away from a career as an industrial chemist to pursue golf full-time.
Golf captured his imagination and full attention. He took up the game at the age of 12 and was hooked. In his youth, Thomson used to spend his spare time jumping through the fence at Royal Park Golf Club and playing a few holes, dodging the wire that was placed around the greens to keep the sheep out. It was the beginning of a lifelong fascination with the game.
“[Golf] attracted me, drew me to it. It wasn't the other way around,” he told the PGA Tour of Australasia. “I didn't have a lot of friends. I was a bit of a loner. That's the golfer's life, I think.”
Thomson won the Royal Park Club Championship at 16, joined the Victoria Golf Club in the Sandbelt and, despite his mother's protests, chose to pursue a career as a golf professional.
True to Thomson's quality as a person, many years later when he had succeeded in making a living from the game, he bought the West Brunswick house that they had grown up in and gave it to his Mum.
It was another all-time great, Norman Von Nida, who persuaded him to turn pro. Thomson remembered meeting him at his hotel in Sydney once, and the legendary ‘Von' opening his wardrobe to reveal dozens of brightly-coloured trousers. “I went ‘wow, this is what golf pro is all about'.”
His prodigious talent resulted in him becoming one of the greatest Australian golfers of all time. His five wins at The Open Championship, with victories in 1954, 1955 and 1956, made him the only golfer in the 20th Century to win The Open in three consecutive years. From 1952 – 1958, Thomson did not finish outside the top two in golf's oldest championship. His record in the Open is only bettered by Harry Vardon who won the Claret Jug a record six times.
He was known as a very intelligent player. “The most important facets of golf are careful planning, calm and clear thinking and the ordinary logic of common sense,” he wrote.
Thomson also went on to enjoy
a successful senior career. In 1985, he won nine times on the Senior PGA Tour (Champions Tour) in the USA, and finished top of the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship.
In 1998, the same year that Thomson captained the International team to victory in The Presidents Cup (the only victory the Internationals have ever managed), he was also elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Thomson's record showed that he held a true affinity with being right in the thick of it in the closing stages of a golf championship. “That was the real thrill of it for me,” he said in his biography. “I've seen a lot of people find themselves in that situation, and I suspect that very few of them like it, but I really enjoyed it.”
Thomson was your typical hardedged Aussie and the bigger the occasion the better he seemed to play. His grip was light, he wasted little time over the ball and his motion through the ball seemed effortless. He could be a brilliant putter. “There were no frills,” von Nida told the World Golf Hall of Fame, “so virtually nothing could go wrong.”
As a PGA Professional, Thomson's contribution was remarkable. Serving as the Chairman of the PGA of Australia for 32 years, a period that remains the longest in the Association's history, Thomson was a role model for many and led to his induction as an Immortal of the Association in 2016.
Thomson was a great contributor to the game; designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organisation where he was chairman for five years. He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.
The PGA Tour of Australasia said Thomson epitomised the values important to the PGA and his memory will continue to inspire golfers all over Australia and the world.
“A gentleman of the game, a legend of Australian sport and an Immortal of the PGA of Australia, Mr Thomson's contribution to golf and our Association was immense and will live forever in our hearts and the pages of history,” said Gavin Kirkman, CEO of the PGA of Australia.
“We reflect on the life of Peter Thomson with respect and pride knowing that it was a great privilege to have a man of his talent, passion, wisdom and grace be such an integral part of the PGA of Australia and our sport.
David Stretton, Interim Chairman of the PGA of Australia, also honoured Peter Thomson AO, CBE.
“Mr Thomson was Australian golf and this is a truly sad day for our sport. He was an incredibly intelligent man who successfully guided the PGA as Chairman for 32 years; his legacy will certainly continue to influence current and future PGA leaders.”
Charles said Thomson's life was one of many lasting successes, not only as a competitor but as a golf course architect, a writer, a commentator and a politician if he had pursued this vocation.
“Peter's success inspired me in many ways, his relaxed attitude, his calm confidence and a man who gave the appearance of loving and enjoying his life as a professional golfer with humility and humbleness,” said the 82-year-old.
Peter Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
“As the 18th hole of life is drawing close for me,” said Charles. “I have time to reflect on the power of the mind over the power of the body which Peter epitomised so well. Farewell dear friend your footsteps were just too big for me to follow.”
←Peter Thompson of Australia practises his swing on 1st September 1965 at The Walton Heath Golf Club in Walton on the Hill, United Kingdom.
Golf legends (L to R) Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer and Bruce Devlin pose after their exhibition round before the start of the Hillross Australian Open at the Australian Golf Club November, 2004 in Sydney, Australia.
International Team Captain Peter Thompson listens to the speech during the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Manassas, Virginia.
↑Peter Thomson in action practising on the course. Credit: Allsport Hulton/ Archive.