Peter Thomsonwon the Open Championship five times between 1954 and 1965. Thomson is the only golfer to win a modern major three times in succession – The Open 1954, 1955, 1956.
Born in Brunswick, a northern suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Thomson was a prolific tournament champion around the world, winning the national championships of ten countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times.
1950 New Zealand Open: Played at Christchurch on October 8 to 10 with southerlies early, but changing to light easterlies and cloudless skies over the final two days. The twenty-year-old Peter Thomson showed early that he would be the player to beat and his opening rounds of 60, 69 gave notice of his potential.
The Australian amateur Harry Hattersley on 143 seemed likely to be his greatest threat until he returned a poor final round. The final day described as “distressing for New Zealand golf, and for the most part extraordinarily tame” saw Thomson win by nine strokes, but in retrospect, his popularity and quality game set a standard to be maintained in the future.
1951 New Zealand Open: Played at the Titirangi Golf Club on September 25 to 27. This Open was described as a further setback for golf in New Zealand but provided further success for Peter Thomson who had won all the major professional events he had entered in the country, and who retained the title he had won in Christchurch the previous year.
While his second round of 74 had seen some “indifferent play” he was still able to return a reasonable score, and this in spite of an obvious dislike of the very slow Titirangi greens at the time. Had the amateur Woon been able to begin in the manner he finished the tournament the winning margin would have been reduced, and the gales that affected a major period of the play provided conditions not favouring the slightly built Buckler.
1953 New Zealand Open: Shocking weather on the second day of the Open played at Balmacewen on October 12 to 14 was a major feature resulting in only three players managing to break 80 for all four rounds.
It was agreed by those present that the cold, wet and gusty weather, much of which continued through till the final day was responsible for the disappointing scores on the Otago Golf Club’s par 72 course. Peter Thomson and Napier professional Ernie Southerden were tied on 149 after the first two days, but a third-round 80 saw Southerden put paid to his title chances.
Bledisloe Cup winner Woon played five from the tee on his final round. The resulting 81 spoiled an otherwise excellent score which could have challenged Thomson’s eventual five-stroke victory.
1955 New Zealand Open: Conditions at Auckland golf Club for this event played on October 6, 7 and 8 were fine and warm though the course remained wet and boggy over the first two days. An increased number of Australian professionals had entered and it was J. McInnes who led after two days with two rounds of 71.
He faded somewhat as his better-known compatriots found good form on the final day. The course at Middlemore had dried out considerably by this time and Thomson was able to show his skills. While Nagle and Crampton filled second and third, the fourth player and winner of the Bledisloe Cup was S.G. Jones of Hastings, a man fast becoming a legend in New Zealand amateur golf.
1959 New Zealand Open: Paraparaumu Beach on September 23 to 25 saw many younger amateurs pressing for honours, with the later starters on the second day enjoying the best weather conditions. Consistently sound putting saw the titleholder Nagle head amateur John Stern by one stroke, with Peter Thomson and Bob Tuohy three strokes further back.
The final day played in excellent conditions concluded dramatically. Thomson had finished in 287 with Nagle following and requiring a birdie 4 on the par 5 eighteenth to tie. All seemed over when he failed by twenty metres to find the green in three. A remarkable chip shot, however, found the cup and a tie-breaking 18 holes were required to be played the next day.
Scoring 67, one stroke off the Gary Player course record at the time, saw Thomson take his fifth New Zealand Open title by six strokes in the extra round.
1960 New Zealand Open: Hosted by the Invercargill Golf Club on 17, 18 and 19 November during their Diamond Jubilee year. Kel Nagle returned as the British Open champion with Thomson, Charles, Buckler and Southerden and a host of young amateurs determined to impress.
Thomson scored 68 on each of the opening two days, leaving Nagle and the young Auckland amateur Newdick seven strokes in arrears. Charles, now in the professional ranks, was unable to break 300 and it was left to Nagle to make a strong challenge on the final day, falling by only one stroke to overcome Thomson’s early advantage.
1961New Zealand Open: Played at the New Plymouth Golf Club’s Ngamotu course on October 12 to 14 with perfect conditions on the first two days. On the final day, rain fell solidly throughout the play but caused little concern among the leaders.
Thomson led with a brilliant 64-65-139 after two rounds from Nagle 69-67-136 and amateur John Durry 67-70-137. Thomson’s two 69’s on the final day gained him the New Zealand Open title for the seventh occasion and bettered Nagle’s previous record score set in Hamilton in 1958 by eleven strokes.
1965New Zealand Open: Played at Auckland Golf Club’s Middlemore course on November 18 to 21. Two fine opening rounds on a course set up to prevent brilliant scoring saw Peter Thomson open a one-stroke lead from Kel Nagle with Bob Charles three further back. In hot sunshine on the final day, Thomson, with a two-under-par final score of 278 won his eighth New Zealand Open title, which broke Andy Shaw’s previous seven-win record.
Though this was a victory by eight strokes there were periods during the final day when Charles especially looked capable of challenging strongly, only to see a masterly effort retake the advantage. Some of the finer golf of the event was played by amateur Ross Murray who began with a forgettable 80, then followed two steady 72’s with the lowest score of the tournament in the final round to win both the Jellicoe and Bledisloe Cup trophies.
1971 New Zealand Open: The Balmacewen course provided difficultly yet challenging conditions at this Dunedin venue on November 25 to 27. The championship, played for the first time over four days, quickly became a contest where patience was bound to succeed.
Lister, Newton, Marsh and Charles all fell back at some stage after good efforts in the early rounds. Many who thought the course may be vulnerable suffered the consequences of aggression on an uncompromising layout. In his twenty-first year of competition in New Zealand Thomson was able to demonstrate the virtues of patience in taking his ninth New Zealand Open title.
Thompson went on to compete on the PGA Tour in 1953 and 1954 with relatively little success (finishing 44th and 25th on the money list), and after that was an infrequent competitor. However, in 1956, playing in just eight events, he won the rich Texas International Open and achieved his best finish in one of the three majors staged in the United States (fourth at the U.S. Open), to finish ninth on the money list.
In the era that Thomson won his first four Open Championships, few of the leading professionals from the United States travelled to Britain to play in that event. At that time, the prize money in the Open was insufficient for an American to cover their expenses. However, Thomson demonstrated with his win in 1965 that he could beat a field of the world’s best players, as that victory came against a field that included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema, three of the top four American golfers from the 1964 money list.
Thomson enjoyed a successful senior career. In 1985 he won nine times on the Senior PGA Tour in the United States and finished top of the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship. He was president of the Australian PGA from 1962 to 1994 and a victorious non-playing captain of the international team in the 1998 Presidents Cup.
He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.
Thomson was active as a golf writer, contributing to The Age of Melbourne for some 50 years from the early 1950s. He was an honorary member of Royal Melbourne Golf Club. Thomson designed over a hundred golf courses in Australia and around the world.
Thomson died in Melbourne on 20 June 2018 after a four-year battle with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 88.