- Top 100
- Peter Thomson
Peter Thomson was the first of four sons born to Arthur Thomson, a signwriter, and Grace Watson, a dressmaker, in the working class suburb of Brunswick, and he learned to play golf as a junior on the 9-hole Royal Park layout across the road from where the family lived.
The course played firm and fast, especially in the hot summers, and Peter developed golfing techniques here that would stand him in good stead later in his professional career on the famous links courses of the British Isles.
At 16 years of age, he became a member at Victoria Golf Club, allowing him to further refine his playing skills.
Thomson achieved a diploma in applied chemistry at Footscray Technical School in Melbourne in 1945 then worked as a rubber technologist for Spalding in Melbourne, designing and producing golf balls, which he tested himself.
In 1949, having won several amateur titles, he decided to turn professional.
Peter’s first professional victory arrived the following year, when he won the 34th edition of the New Zealand Open in Christchurch. Over the following four decades, he secured more than eighty professional tournament victories around the world, with most of them occurring on the Australasian and European tours.
His last professional win came on the European Seniors Tour at North Berwick in 1988, when he prevailed in the PGA Seniors Championship by two stokes from Denis Hutchinson. He’s best remembered, of course, for winning the Open five times between 1954 and 1965 and he also represented Australia at eleven World Cups, winning the 2-man team event twice.
Thomson was president of the Australian PGA from 1962 to 1994. In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.
In 1982 he was elected an honorary member of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, where he played an active role. Six years later, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He also had a successful career as a golf journalist, contributing to the Melbourne Age for many years.
In the mid-1960s, he founded South Pacific Golf, along with John Harris and Michael Wolveridge. Over the next half century, he and his various business partners, including Ross Perrett and Tim Lobb, were involved in more than a hundred golf course projects around the world.
Most of their output centred on the Australasian market, but they also expanded their reach into southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Japan and India.
From the World Golf Hall of Fame: “Peter Thomson was the thinking man’s golfer. His clean, brisk game was based on cold logic and a gift for reducing things to their simplest essentials. His style was free of the extraneous, so that the path he would take to victory seemed a remarkably straight line.
Between 1954 and 1965, the Australian won the British Open five times. He and Young Tom Morris were among only four men to win it three times consecutively. He won 26 times in Europe, 19 times in Australia and New Zealand and 11 more times in Asia and Japan. He played only a few seasons in America, garnering one victory in the U.S., the 1956 Texas Open, where he closed with a 63 and defeated Cary Middlecoff and Gene Littler in a playoff.
Thomson was best on fast-running courses where judging the bounce and run of the ball was more important than long hitting. Mostly for that reason, he did not excel when playing on the well-watered and longer courses in the United States. Other than his victory in Texas, Thomson’s best showing in a U.S. event was a fourth place in the 1956 U.S. Open and a fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played in the PGA Championship.
Thomson was gifted with a true affinity for being in the thick of the tense closing moments of a 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.’
By temperament and design, Thomson indeed seemed pressure-proof. His grip was light, his manner at address brisk and his motion through the ball graceful and devoid of much physical effort. He was a reliable and occasionally brilliant putter. ‘There were no frills,’ said von Nida, ‘so virtually nothing could go wrong.’
Above all, Thomson had a head for the game. ‘The most important facets of golf are careful planning, calm and clear thinking and the ordinary logic of common sense,’ he once wrote. It was the same cool detachment with which he separated his competitive self from the rest of his life.
He was truly a balanced man in a world that usually requires obsessive and narrow dedication. Thomson enjoyed reading, the opera and painting. He ran for elected office in Australia in 1982, narrowly losing. After his competitive rounds, when he was abroad, he often wrote cogent dispatches and columns for the Melbourne Herald.
Later in his career, he designed golf courses, especially in Asia, where he was also instrumental in establishing professional tours. His diverse interests were a big reason why he chose not to uproot himself for America like other Australian golfers.”
Scotsman obituary: Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else’s. “All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,” Thomson told golf historian Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.
“The circumstances change so much, and so do the players’ attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income. When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,” he said. “So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.”
Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn’t afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.
That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer’s prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.
“Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,” blared the headline of a story he wrote. “Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.”
But he was always happy on the golf course.
“I’ve had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,” Thomson said. “I don’t think I did a real day’s work in the whole of my life.”