Golf Australia

Clayton: Thommo left the game better off

Peter Thomson
Peter Thomson during The Open at the Royal Birkdale in 1965.

Peter Thomson died today. 88 is a great innings to reference another sport he loved. Bradman, he once said, ‘was a God when I was growing up.’

To Australian golfers of his time Thomson was a God although it wouldn’t be right to describe him as the Father of Australian Golf. He would have conceded that title to Norman Von Nida, the little Queenslander who mentored the young Victorian, to the extent even of sharing their prizemoney on Thomson’s first trip to Britain.

His playing record is so well known it almost needs no repeating here.

Five Open Championships makes him our greatest golfer and the standard by which all other are measured. Three Australian Opens were championships of which he was equally proud and winning nine times on the American Senior Tour as a 54-year-old showed to many who thought his record in America spotty that he could play any form of the game if he turned his mind to it.

Instead Thomson was a world player, enjoying the stimulation of different cultures and countries. Britain especially stirred his golfing instincts as he found a form of the game more sophisticated and interesting than the one played in the United States. ‘When I would get to Sunningdale or one of the seaside links I would rediscover the joy of hitting off the most perfect turf in the world.’

The bounce of the ball was, in his mind, the factor, which distinguished cricket above baseball and in Britain where the ball bounded along the firm ground of the heathland courses of London and the links of the coast he found the most interesting form of the game and one he determined to master.

The sandbelt of Melbourne, where he honed his fledgling game, offered much of the same version of golf and was the ideal training ground for The Open in Britain, a championship he revered above all others.

As Von Nida had taken it upon himself to help Thomson so did he for generations to come, freely giving of advice and time. Graham Marsh was one who benefitted, and like Thomson he played professionally all over the world, much of it in Japan. Peter had been a hugely important force in Asian and Japanese golf where he committed to play, his presence generating legitimacy, interest and money on those fledgling tours.

Another he helped was Ian Baker-Finch and his advice was instructive in how he saw the swing. He thought it essentially a simple move. ‘Your left hand is above your right on the grip so the left shoulder must be higher than the right. Get yourself set and aimed properly and then just take it back.’

It sounds simple enough but the hardest thing, no matter what the task, is to make something difficult or complicated look easy. Roger Federer does it. Greg Chappell did it and no one made golf look easier than Thomson.

When he observed the early version of Baker-Finch he was a big, young man hitting high, soft and short fades with his driver. He understood that flight was never going to succeed and reasoned the way forward was hit the opposite shot – the low running draw. Whilst most teachers would have complicated the task Thomson just told Ian to ‘put the ball back in your stance and swing the club around your arse!’

It was logical, simple and it worked a treat and in no small way was his advice the making of Baker-Finch’s success in The Open.

His other great contribution to the game was his writing. For years he would pen his must-read and fearless columns for The Age. After the 1977 Australian Open on the newly redesigned Jack Nicklaus course he headlined a column in The Age with ‘Packer money wasted’ and likened the new ponds as being as American ‘as fins on Cadillac’s’. It didn’t endear him to the media mogul who had financed the alterations but he was absolutely right.

Peter Thomson was man who truly loved and understood the game, who dedicated his life to it and left it much better than he found it. As the great Scottish course designer Alister MacKenzie transformed our courses, the courses on which Thomson learned to play, so did Peter transform the game in Australia.

It is a legacy that will live forever. A great man.


Posted by Ray Ryan at
18/07/2018 12:44 PM
Vale Peter,wonderful gentleman,our greatest golfer and commentator on golf. as for leaving bunkers unraked in his memory, the public courses I play, the golfers there must never want to forget him. R.I.P
Posted by Ross Davis at
24/06/2018 06:55 PM
Well covered Mike. As a writer on all things golf you do a fine job in following the example of PWT As a 50 year member of Metropolitan I am so glad we had perhaps his last public appearance to view the Australian Open honour wall, including Peter's first AO win in 1951
Posted by Lynne Brown at
21/06/2018 03:08 PM
Well said Mike. As always I find your articles interesting and insightful. You have a wonderful sense and knowledge of history. There are many who do not pay enough respect to our great past players and the game. That could never be said if you.
Posted by John Neeson at
20/06/2018 10:30 PM
A champion and a gentleman. You're away sir.
Posted by Mango Maguire at
20/06/2018 09:11 PM
A lovely tribute Mike. Peter Thomson has left such a legacy to golf in Australia over his long and outstanding career as a player, administrator, writer, architect and spokesperson for the betterment of the game. His thoughtful insights will be missed. Condolences to the family.
Posted by Denis Starr at
20/06/2018 08:38 PM
Firstly, a sad day of the passing of arguably Australia's best golfer. A legend & a gentleman. RIP Mr Thomson. Peter Gee, are you serious about not raking bunkers? I was in one today inside a dopes heal imprint with a 5cm wall of sand between my ball and the shot.
Posted by John Evans at
20/06/2018 08:10 PM
A sad day for me and many of us fortunate to know and be helped by PWT, the Pres. Peter Gee, a thoughtful taswegian commentator who worked beside Peter in the booth has a very good idea, I won’t rake the bunkers for quite a while.
Posted by Allan Washington at
20/06/2018 07:32 PM
Ornament to the game,uncomplicated swing,razor sharp accuracy,his senior wins just proved how adaptable he was ..RIP
Posted by Peter at
20/06/2018 05:56 PM
an example to all sportsmen and women
Posted by Rusty at
20/06/2018 04:03 PM
Vale P. Thomson. A wonderful figure in the history of Aus sport. He can now wander the fairways with his great mate Kel Nagle. RIP.
Posted by Peter Gee at
20/06/2018 03:19 PM
Well said Mike. Peter often lamented the fact that raking bunkers meant they were no longer hazards. I think all golfers and clubs should leave bunkers unraked today in his memory.
Posted by Ross Baker at
20/06/2018 03:09 PM
R.I.P Peter Thomson, Sincere Condolences to Mary and Family. Lovely Tribute Mike!

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