Many would suppose the professional golfer Peter Thomson led an idyllic existence.
He tended to agree.
“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.” Thomson undoubtedly performed at least a few hours of honest toil in his 88 years.
He could hardly have been the success he undoubtedly was had he not. Peter William Thomson who died on Wednesday was arguably Australia’s finest golfer.
In a golden era from the early 1950s until the mid 1960s he won the British Open Championship five times, three of the victories coming in successive years; he was second three times and made the cut in 23 consecutive appearances in the championship up to 1973.
It could easily be imagined that for a man of his abilities, almost 40 years of playing professional golf might seem like something other than “real work”. But after retiring from competitive play, Thomson established a golf course design and construction company that presumably required some serious endeavour to grow, as it did, into one of the world’s most successful. Thomson took just as naturally to television commentary and to journalism which he has practised, again with seemingly effortless skill, for Melbourne’s Age newspaper.
“It has all been one long piece of fun,” he said.
“Playing golf in my day didn’t have the pressures associated with it that came along later,” he said.
“The thing about those days was that it was such a paltry prize they put up. “The money was gone by Christmas.
“I’m not sure how much it was but it was nearly negligible. You couldn’t buy a Jaguar car with it, I remember that.” The point is illustrated well by the fact that Thomson had to borrow a jacket from an Australian friend for the presentation at the 1956 Open. When he handed back the jacket the cheque was still in the pocket.
Long after the two had returned to Melbourne his friend found the cheque in the jacket pocket and returned it to its rightful owner, who had forgotten all about it.
Thomson regarded the 1965 Open at Royal Birkdale as the crowning achievement of his career because to win it he had to beat the three greatest players in the world — Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
“They were certainly the best there was at the time and everybody expected one of them to win it,” he said.
“But somehow or another I managed to beat them. I thought that was an achievement, frankly.” Thomson’s first played golf at the Royal Park public course, only a few kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, where he’d sneak through the fence and play a few holes out of sight of the clubhouse.
His excursions onto the nine-hole course weren’t as secret as he thought. Some members spotted the teenager on the course, arranged a membership for him and within two years, at the age of 16, the name of P W Thomson appeared on the honour roll beneath those of the club’s previous champions.
Thomson turned professional in 1949 and won the New Zealand Open the following year and his first Australian Open in 1951. In all, he won the national titles of seven countries.
His first British Open victory came in 1954 as a 24-year-old and followed second placings in the previous two years.
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