FIVE-TIME OPEN CHAMPION PETER THOMSON PASSES AWAY
Peter Thomson, one of the greatest golfers of the post-war era, and a five-time Open champion, has died aged 88.
Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for more than four years and died at his home in Melbourne on June 20.
In 1954, he became the first Australian to claim the Open Championship, and is one of only three other golfers – JH Taylor, James Braid and Tom Watson – to have won five Claret Jugs, while the only six-time champion is Harry Vardon.
But it was his hat-trick of Open titles between 1954-56 that was unquestionably his greatest achievement. Thomson dominated on the British links during a seven-year spell between 1952 and 1959 in which he finished no worse than first or second.
Having grown up playing the sandbelt course around Melbourne, Thomson was in his element on fast-running courses, where judging the bounce and run of the ball was more important than long hitting. His low, running game was ideally suited to the hard links of Britain’s coastline, while his best result on America’s target-golf layouts was fourth at the 1956 US Open and a fifth in the 1957 Masters.
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.
Thomson finished sixth on his Open debut in 1951, but his stunning streak began with second at Royal Lytham in 1952 behind South Africa’s Bobby Locke, the only other player that could live with him in his Open pomp. A four-way tie for second at Carnoustie the following year behind the legendary America Ben Hogan prepared Thomson for his reign.
With a brand new set of borrowed John Letters irons, the 24-year-old Thomson carded a final-round 71 at Royal Birkdale to win by one from Locke, Syd Scott and Dai Rees in 1954. The following year he beat Johnny Fallon by two shots to win at St Andrews and he completed his hatrick with victory by three strokes over Belgium’s Flory van Donck at Hoylake in 1956.
Having succeeded Locke as pre-tournament favourite, he lost by three to his arch-rival back at St Andrews in 1957, but he hit back with victory in a 36-hole play off to beat 23-year-old Dave Thomas at Royal Lytham in 1958.
Throughout his period of success, Thomson was dogged by critics who suggested he was winning in an era when the world’s best players avoided the Open because there wasn’t enough prize money on offer, but Thomson silenced these claims 11 years after his first win when he landed the 1965 Open at Royal Birkdale, when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were all in the starting line up.
Thomson ended his career with 89 tournament wins, and after brief dalliance with the Senior Tour – he won a record nine events in 1985 – he moved into the golf course design business, helping to develop more than 180 courses in over 30 countries. Due to declining health, he announced his retirement from his practices in 2016, including his partnership with architects Ross Perrett and Tim Lobb in London, whose most recent work has included renovations at The Buckinghamshire, Wimbledon Park, Richmond and Woking.