05 May 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |

Great Australian Moments 5: Thomson the world-beater

by Martin Blake

Thommo Birkdale image
Peter Thomson celebrates No. 5 at Birkdale in 1965. Photo: Getty

The late, great Peter Thomson had so many triumphs over his career in golf, with 88 professional tournament wins around the world and five Open Championships. But this one sits at the top of the pile.

By the time he got to Birkdale in England in 1965, Thomson had won the Open four times, including three in a row from 1954-1956. At one point, he’d been either first or second in seven consecutive Opens. He was the premier links player in the world, just shy of his 36th birthday.

But for the first time in 1965, he faced the full armada of incoming stars from the United States in an Open. For reasons unclear, most of them skipped the oldest championship in the world through the 50s and early 1960s.

So in 1965 when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer joined Tony Lema, who’d won at St Andrews the year before, in the field not to mention the other top internationals, it was the beginning of a new era for the Open.

Nicklaus had won the Masters that year, and South Africa’s Gary Player, who had won the US Open, was in the field as well.

To the finicky and the hypercritical, Thomson had secured his previous four wins against thinner fields. In his quiet, understated way, Thomson set out to right this at Birkdale.

He took the lead in the third round and in the final round, held off Lema’s charge, the American moving within a shot through 15 holes. Thomson birdied the last two holes, hitting his second shot on the green at the par-five 18th, and ultimately won by two shots at seven-under par while Lema fell away.

“I got myself into good form that time,” he told the journalist and author Richard Allen in a wide-ranging interview for Golf Australia in 2017. “It was the last time, although I didn’t realise at the time, so it didn’t matter who it was at the other end of the stick. I was going to do a good score. If they could beat that, they deserved to win. That’s how we started, and that’s how we finished.”

Thomson wore the sobriquet “five-time Open champion’’ for the rest of his life. Only one man – Harry Vardon, who won six Opens between 1896 and 1914 – has more.

In truth, his Open record is something to behold. He was runner-up three times and inside the top 10 on 18 occasions. Typically though – for humility was one of his more attractive traits – Thomson was matter-of-fact about it all.

“I played in 30 Open Championships, and I lost 25 of them,” he told Allen. “But it wasn’t so bad.”

1965 Open highlights

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