Another Golf Great Turns 80

While there has been - deservedly - a lot of hubbub over Arnold Palmer's 80th birthday on September 10th, clear over on the other side of the globe another golf great has already matched that milestone.

Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of the British Open, tied with James Braid, J.H. Taylor and Tom Watson for second most Claret Jugs behind Harry Vardon, turned 80 in late August.

The octogenarian, who still resides in his native Melbourne, Australia, is like Arnie in that he hasn't slowed down much in recent years. His design company, Thomson Perrett, is building courses around the world and Thomson still flies to construction sites with his architect partner, Ross Perrett.

Thomson is going to the Presidents Cup in San Francisco this October and to Asia and the Middle East to tour courses his company is building. With offices in Australia and in London, they have built 23 courses "Down Under" and dozens around the world, while remodeling many others. The firm has one new course in Egypt, where players tee off near the pyramids, along with several in India, China and Thailand.

Thomson avoids the planning and engineering aspects of his courses and focuses on the golf, leaving the nuts and bolts to Perrett. "I don't work hard. It's brain work, really," he told reporter Martin Blake of the (for the full story, visit

Thomson began his athletic career as a young cricketer. But growing up in Brunswick near Royal Park Golf Club drew him to a sport that has lasted a lifetime. He won Royal Park's club championship as a teenager, and never looked at a sport other than golf.

instance, he wrote in his autobiography that he quickly learned he was a poor bunker player, so he decided not to go into them. Thomson also believes most of the modern-day swing analyses as hogwash. "There are some people who can't spend time on a practice fairway without being video-ed, but when they get to the application stage, they can't get out of their head how they look. Your attention can only focus on one thing, not several things. And that is actually ball hitting bat. Never mind how you do it."

He adds, "I was content with my own company. I liked to figure things out for myself. Looking back, nobody taught me, but countless people encouraged me."

Thomson was a brilliant iron player and a decent putter. "When I first went to play in the United States in the '50s, I was a young man, only 21 or 22, and I was playing with the 'gods' of the game: [Ben] Hogan, [Sam] Snead, [Julius] Boros and so many good players," he told Blake. "I thought, 'I'm not as good as these guys, but I can shoot the same score.' I always felt that playing golf seriously is about scoring. It's not about hitting it further or even closer. It's about getting around in 68. That's all I did, really."

In his peak in the 1950s, Thomson did that and more. During his prime he was widely recognized as the best links golfer in the world, and quite possibly the best ever. He won three straight Opens - in 1954, '55 and '56 - and again in '58 and 1965 at Royal Birkdale, arguably his greatest triumph since he beat the "Big Three" of Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. He was also runner-up in 1952, '53 and '57, and ultimately won more than 100 titles worldwide. Thomson was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988.

When Thomson won the Open at Royal Liverpool in 1956, he had to borrow a jacket for the presentation ceremony as television had just arrived in golf. "It was like the Movietone news. I thought, 'I must get a jacket from somewhere' and I saw Max Shaw, who was captain of Royal Melbourne at the time. I said, 'Do me a favor, lend me your coat.' He took off his gray jacket and it fit me. The picture shows me in my white golf shoes with a strange jacket on taking the prize. When Max got back to Australia and his wife was sending his jacket to the dry cleaners, she found a check for 1,000 pounds."

Thomson still regards the British Open as the premier tournament in the world and it is one of the reasons he dislikes the current move to have golf in the Olympic Games in 2012. "The Olympics might need golf, but golf doesn't need the Olympics. We have one every year for a start. It's the British Open. Any event that posed to be more important than the Open Championship, I would be totally against."

Thomson spent most of his illustrious career racking up victories outside the United States. He played on the PGA Tour several times in the 1950s, finishing fourth in the U.S. Open in 1956 and fifth in the Masters the following year. But Augusta National Golf Club did not appeal to him; the course was too long. In fact, he didn't like many of the courses the tour visited during that era.

By the late 1950s he stopped coming to America. "They said you had to commit to the U.S. tour and not play anywhere else. I thought, 'Bugger that, I want to play in Britain.' "

But he returned to the U.S. in 1985 for the budding Senior Tour. "Nobody thought it would last," Thomson told Blake. "[My wife] Mary took one look and said, 'How long's this been going on?' "

Showing that he hadn't lost his skills, Thomson won nine tournaments in a year and more than $1 million - by far the most money he'd ever earned in golf, and won his last big tournament in 1988.

In addition to golf course design, Thomson devotes time as president of the James Braid Society, a group of about 300 people who pay homage to a man who won his five Open titles from 1901-1910 and built hundreds of courses in Europe. "He left us a priceless legacy," Thomson said.

He's also involved in a worldwide organization to protect links golf from exploitation and poor copying. He has also convinced the Australian and Great Britain PGAs to look into an "Ashes" series of golf, a concept still waiting to get off the ground. "Getting the players to play will be the biggest difficulty. But we haven't had an event in Australia where we can go out and root for our team, as it were."

Golf will remain in the forefront for Thomson for the rest of his life. "It [golf] reached out and grabbed me," he said. "It was a good excuse for not working. But making golf a science and insisting that people study it, they get the feeling 'this is difficult.' Whereas, really, they should consider it easy, because it is. It's just whacking a ball, for goodness sakes."

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