One anecdote sums up PGA Life Member Peter Thomson perhaps more pertinently than five Open Championship victories, membership to the World Golf Hall of Fame and a golf architecture portfolio of 250 course designs around the world. The story goes that after his first Open Championship victory at Royal Birkdale in 1954, the Australian did not have an appropriate jacket for the Claret Jug presentation. However, Thomson wasn't content with just being a champion, so he raced back to his hotel room to find a coat up to the occasion. "People didn't go to prizegivings in their smelly golf shirts," he said. "You only need to be respectable at golf to enjoy it [laughs]. You don't have to be a champion."
While the story paints Thomson as a winner, a consummate Professional, and a gentleman, it also symbolises the attention to detail 'Thommo' would carry into an esteemed golf course design career. In August 2016, the 86-year-old called time on his golf architectural enterprise, so The Professional caught up with Thomson to talk about his two decorated chapters in Australian golf.
Another lovely story was when I had to borrow a jacket from Max Shaw after my British Open win in '56, and some months later after I'd returned the jacket, they found the winner's cheque. His wife went through the pockets before she sent it to the drycleaners and found a cheque for 1,000 pounds. It eventually got deposited where it should have.
I've often said the wins are like your children – you need to love them equally. I was always thrilled to play in The Open and winning it five times brought marvellous satisfaction. But the most important thing in your life is to bring up your children to be decent people. If you fail in that, even if you're a champion golfer, you stand condemned, I think.
I think traditions in golf are indestructible. They've gone through all sorts of troubles over the years but the game is 600 years old and it's endured. And I think it will endure in the future. It would be impossible to eradicate golf's culture.
Golf hooks its victims. There's an intriguing lure because of the fact you get better and better. You get a reward for improving your play – the challenge is exciting. I don't think any other game can give you that.
After living through the depression and a world war, to have success in golf, I felt guilt. To be paid for doing something that was a great pleasure for me seemed a bit upside down.
Now, I think deep down, I'm beginning to feel a bit better about it because my prizes in my career [compared to today] were so miserable that it's hardly worth mentioning them. If you win The Open now, it's about $1.5 million or something.
I dedicated much of my book, A Life In Golf, to memories of Norman von Nida and Bobby Locke. While those events were happening I thought they were the most important things in the world, but I learnt later that they weren't. However, they were the great examples of what a Professional player should be and I learnt all that from them.
Adam Scott is a great example of a beautiful golf swing, but Lee Trevino is proof that you can't change your swing; it's sort of built in. You can't adopt a different swing. You're stuck with it for life. There isn't any such thing as a perfect swing. There are so many different swings – they're like personalities.
I was sitting in my lounge room watching when Adam won The Masters in 2013. I had tears in my eyes, I confess. I know he's somebody who deserves that success. I also think he needs to win the US Open or British Open once in his life to enhance his reputation. He can't leave this earth without winning one. Has he got it in him to win an Open? Well, he's 36 and you can play well enough into your mid-40s.
I have a deep love of art. The pieces at home are a bit better than I could do – well, a lot better [laughs]. I appreciate art and respect it. My father was an artist in a way. He was a sign writer and he was working with paint all the time. I wished I could do the same, and that's stayed with me all my life. To me, making golf courses is a form of sculpture, so I've enjoyed that immensely too.
I don't tend to be critical of other course designers; I just try to be honest. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion about course design. But I do think copying things in golf architecture is a bit weak. However, all courses in the world are copies of the Old Course at St Andrews. It's why we have 18 holes and not 22 or 15. In the forests of Japan we put in sand bunkers, and why are we putting sand bunkers in the mountains? It's in emulation of the Old Course.
My passion is a lovely course in northern Scotland called Brora Golf Club. I went there on the recommendation of a delightful caddie that worked for me in America. He went there and he said I'd love it. I went there and I came away thinking I'd seen somewhere marvellous. It's a course by James Braid and it was put together by another man and that's the way things happen... It's so near the origins of the game that it's unbelievable, so I love that place. It's the epitome of golf architecture.
I enjoyed a wonderful association with both (design partners) Ross (Perrett) and Tim (Lobb), as I did in the past with Michael Wolveridge. Together, over 51 years, we have embarked on many exciting projects in more than 30 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Asia, the Middle East, and more recently Africa, bringing the game to regions previously without proper golf courses. This has given me much satisfaction as I reflect upon our achievements. My affection for all three of my partners is ongoing. I wish them well in the future, and I am sure our friendship will continue always.
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What's on this week / 25th - 31st January 2017
Discover what's on in the world of golf and which Aussies are in action this week