We pay trib­ute to the great Peter Thomp­son

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

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