Peter Thomson and the writer at the World Cup at Kingston Heath in 2016
I have had the good fortune to experience some great moments in golf involving, at times, some of the game’s greatest ever but a moment that will forever remain with me was at the closing ceremony of the World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath in Melbourne in late 2016.
Peter Thomson, who passed away today at the age of 88, had been invited as one of the group of dignitaries to attend the closing ceremony for an event in his home town on one of Australia’s great golf courses to officiate in the presentation to Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen and Thorborn Olesen who had, minutes earlier, sealed victory in the event.
It was perhaps fitting for Thomson to be part of the official party that day as he along with his great friend and peer Kel Nagle had twice won the event and been twice runner-up.
But that was not the only reason for him being there. He was of course a Melbourne resident who had played such a great role in the awareness by the golfing world of the great golf courses of Victoria and so his involvement that day married his huge success in the game with his promotion of Melbourne as a the home of several of the world’s great golfing destinations and his long term role in the PGA of Australia.
He was also there because his health was failing and those involved in the promotion of the event wanted to avail Thomson with all the opportunities he could physically manage in order to stay in touch with the game and for the game to stay in touch with him.
As proceedings wrapped up that day I saw Thomson walking across the green and directly towards me and while I knew him I imagined, given his rapidly developing Parkinsons and associated illnesses, that he would struggle to acknowledge me.
To my absolute delight Thomson called me by name and asked after my welfare. It was a special moment for me having first met him some 45 years earlier in New Zealand at one of the first events I caddied in and on many occasions since and given his passing today will remain with me forever.
Thomson was also a prolific winner of titles in New Zealand having won a massive nine New Zealand Open Championships over a twenty two year period between 1950 and 1971.
The last of those nine New Zealand Opens came in 1971 at the Balmacewan Golf Club in Dunedin and while it was in the latter stages of his remarkable career and was one of the last few victories in a career that saw more than 80 wins worldwide it gave me a first hand experience of just what a delightful player he was to watch.
Simplicity in both technique and in his approach to the game was the hallmark of Thomson’s career. A beautifully simple yet so technically correct and effective swing was backed up by an approach to the game which would could be described as the KISS method.
The modern day player would learn a lot from watching Thomson. His hit it, find it and hit it again approach would be almost incomprehensible in current day tournament golf where the use of yardage books, greens books, coaches, trainers, and an entourage that at times defies logic would be very foreign to him.
Thomson tackled the world mostly on his own, using the guidance, trailblazing and mentoring of Norman Von Nida as his inspiration as he took on Europe, the USA, Japan and Asia in addition to Australasia developing self belief not only in himself but in the many others who would follow.
He made Australians believe that winning major championships was not beyond them and for so many of those who followed it was his initiative and success that led them to believe they could do the same.
“He encouraged me to follow his own lead,” Thomson said of Von Nida when describing how he got started in professional game. “It seemed to me to be a pretty romantic kind of a life if one could roam the world dressed in all those beautiful clothes that he used to wear and see all the sites of the world so an impressionable youth like me fell for it.”
It is fair to say that many who followed Thomson’s example would express similar sentiments especially today as we mourn his loss.
Not only was Thomson a brilliant player but he would go on to have a prolific golf course design career, was a highly regarded golfing journalist whose views were based on experience and not just research, he developed a role as a commentator on televised events in the early stages of televised golf in Australia and of course he captained the International Team to its only victory in the Presidents Cup when they defeated the Americans in Melbourne in 1998.
There have been just so many dimensions and layers to Peter Thomson but it might well be his simplistic approach to the game and life that will perhaps be his ultimate legacy.
I feel blessed to have been exposed to such, albeit in a small way. Perhaps it was because we shared a birthday, but I felt a closeness and admiration for a man often misinterpreted but one whose contribution to the game in Australia by his very deeds must never be underestimated.