21 June 2018: The final departure of Peter Thomson from his residence in Australia sent bells tolling across the world. The universal expression of love and loss for the venerable 88 year old Aussie is a uniquely poignant moment for golf. Especially so for India, considering the massive contributions of the five time Open Championship winner to the game in our country. The great man’s demise yesterday left a crater like void, but his spirit should energise Indian golf for decades to come.
Thomson was the architect and visionary that gave shape to the Indian Open, a tournament with a rich international pedigree and the biggest celebration of golf in India.
In winning the first edition in 1964, Thomson gave the tournament international visibility. It was his continued support that helped the tournament gain a rich heritage and pedigree over the years.
Thomson’s investment in India wasn’t a post-retirement afterthought. He travelled here at the height of his powers. The Aussie won his last and fifth Open Championship, a year after the inaugural Indian Open. He also won the event in 1966 and 1976 to underline his genuine interest in promoting golf in the country.
As an uncomplicated golfer who saw the game to be a simple exercise of hitting the ball toward the flag, Thomson created an unparalleled body of work on and off the course. He was a veritable maestro in links golf, mastering the winds, to accumulate an unbelievable 18 top ten finishes at the Open.
For seven years from 1952 through 1958, Thomson never finished lower than second in the Open.
The golden moment of his career came years later, when he won his fifth and final Open in 1964. The field consisted of the stars that were taking the golfing scene by storm – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tony Lema. Thomson played some exceptional golf to score a two stroke victory at Royal Birkdale, the venue of his first Open success.
But his interests stretched far beyond those of a player. Scribes of his time describe fondly about how Thomson would collect the winner’s spoils and rush to the media tent to complete his responsibilities as a frequent contributor various publications.
He also designed and established over 100 courses globally. Thomson’s design was grounded in the simplistic views enshrined into the great man’s thought processes. He was an outspoken critic of excessively penal courses. Thomson felt that they did nothing to bring the best golfers to the table for a good Sunday feast.
The loss of Thomson is an intense and poignant resonance to Indian golf as the country owes an undying debt to the gentle giant from Australia. One can only hope that the Indian Golf Union finds a fitting way to pay tribute to the great man.