Stories with Peter Thomson
Words by Ranald MacDonald
Here are a few brief stories of playing with the remarkably modest champion PWT who I met and befriended when he was courting the wonderful Mary at The (British) Open at Muirfield in 1959. He led the qualifiers then, but this was one Open he did not win!
His philosophy always was to swing with "kindness" and enjoy. You can smile, chat and play briskly, and still be competitive. He played with calmness and thoughtful strategy, did Placid Pete.
Playing with Welsh Ryder Cup player Brian Huggett in practise for the Open at Royal Birkdale in 1965 (which he won), Peter hit a two iron off the tee on a longish par four.
Huggett hit a driver and said, "Peter, why not hit a driver, the fairway catches the ball as it is cup-shaped so balls pushed or drawn will end on the fairway."
Peter replied: "The Open is four rounds, that is what will happen to everyone's drives. You are likely to get one or two bad lies - if it rains, the ball will stay on the slope.
"I will get four good lies and four flat lies."
Brian wrote later that playing the hole that way had never entered his mind.
I have said that, on a number of occasions someone sitting near Peter at dinner has told me later that they left without knowing he played golf. He was knowledgeable on painting (being a keen amateur painter himself), loved opera and classical music, a surprising range of authors (Arthur Koestler is an example), drug rehabilitation (he chaired the board of a Melbourne centre), there Carlton Football Club and, of course, politics. He ran for a Victorian seat losing narrowly despite a swing in his favour.
Fortunately, by losing he had the time to play on the Seniors tour in the States setting a record of 9 wins in a season, while continuing to build his golf course architecture business with some 150 clients around the world.
Peter has a wonderfully dry sense of humour - people trying to interest him in their misfortune (putts lipping out, plugged balls etc.) found his usual response was "it happened to me once!" I returned from a trip to St Andrews recently and - teasing - said that I had 12 golf rounds to tell him about. He, smiling, said - "perhaps you could limit it to the last hole of the last round?"
Playing with Tony Barber (of tv fame) around the Capitol in Cheltenham, Peter said "Tony, you hit that really well, but - (being a dog leg left and Tony hitting his natural slice) added - sadly you have not gained on the hole.".
Another story. Playing with Peter and Mary at Sorrento who had teamed for a rare game of mixed foursomes, Peter left her a yard (for the modern generation - a smidgeon less than a metre!) off the green.
Mary - a solid 35 handicapper in those days, took out a very sharp-faced club. Peter sidled over to me and whispered. "Please tell her to putt it. She won't listen to me."
His advice was sage, as always - but I tell this story as it indicates something about male/female relationships and marriage, not about the wisdom able to be passed on by one who guessed the likely outcome so accurately.
I played mid-week at Royal Melbourne on a windy, wintry day in 1965 as Peter had rung to say he needed a hit because he was heading to the Firestone Country Club in the States to play in the world series of golf which pitted the winners of The Open, the Masters, the US Open and the US PGA together for a large purse.
Peter had just won his 5th Open at Royal Birkdale.
He played a solid 36 first 9 and then went 3,4,4,3,4,4,2,4,4 in a perfect display on the homeward half which should have been enjoyed by thousands - not just myself..
On the way out he missed two shortish putts and each time said the holes had been either badly cut or put in a bad position. I thought he had hooked both of them.
Later that evening with Graham Marsh - the very good WA professional and friend of Peter's - I recounted the story of the missed putts.
Graham said. "Peter has the strongest mind I have seen in golf, if he doesn't hit a good shot with a club he will be keen to use it again as soon as he can. Other mortals might shy away from it. In the case of his putts, we play different surfaces in Japan, the Scottish links courses, South Africa and in the States.
"You cannot let a doubt enter your mind about your stroke. Peter is totally positive, even if he does happen to miss a couple of putts."
I have thought since how different it might have been for say Ian Baker-Finch if he had developed that confidence in himself and his swing. And also marvel at one of the truly great golfers Bernard Langer who at 60 dominates the Seniors Tour and has had the yips putting at least four times in his career - even four putting when at his worst.
Have any stories of your own with Peter Thomson? We'd love to hear them. Contact us here.
For more about Peter Thomson's playing career, check out the book by Tony Walker.