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July 11, 2005

Peter Thomson


STEWART McDOUGALL: Ladies and gentlemen, we have Peter Thomson.

Peter, 5 times Open champion. You won at St. Andrews 50 years ago, 50 years ago last week. Tell us how you feel back here, with that long period since you last won that championship, how do you feel?

PETER THOMSON: Thank you for coming, first of all. I don't know all of you, but some of you know me. But I'd like to be of some value to you for spending your time with us.

I'm here because it's 50 years since I won the championship on this course, 1955. And as Stewart said, it's a long time ago to remember all the detail of it, but it was a far different affair in those times, naturally. It was relatively quiet, you could say.

I played the first two rounds with Henry Carter, who was the giant of his day, which was a great experience for me, even though I was defending champion. It was still a great honor to play with him and to see at close quarters how well he played. I don't recall what he did score, but it was pretty good, anyway.

Anyway, let me follow your questions from there. I may be talking about things you don't want to know.

Q. You said Henry Carter was the giant of his day, is there a modern day golfer you would liken him to in terms of his stature?

PETER THOMSON: He was the Jack Nicklaus of his day, as far as The Open goes. There wasn't so much Transatlantic golf in those times, but he really was the best known golfer, I think, worldwide in the 1930s. He was in Australia, anyway. So does that satisfy that question?

Q. Have you had the chance to have a look at St. Andrews course, and how it's set up, and could you talk a little bit about if you have, the differences between how it's set up today and how it was set up when you played it in 1955?

PETER THOMSON: Okay. I spend three months a year here, at least I have for the last 11 years. And in those times I played about six times, I suppose, on the Old Course. I don't play every chance I get or every week, but I'm very familiar with it, I suppose as familiar as anybody that's played professionally. So I watch carefully and with great interest with things that happened on the link. The revetting of the bunkers, which is a very interesting process to watch, because I don't know any other place on earth where this is done. And whether it's absolutely necessary or not, I question.

However, in regard to rebuilding the Road Bunker, to my observation it's now at least two meters left of where it was, when I first played here. But little things like that change, but not radically. All of the bunkers have been dealt with and reshaped and rewalled in the last five years. You'd call that sort of cosmetic attention. The walls can't last forever, they have to redo them every three or four or five years at the most, because they erode, and I wouldn't recommend the walls being redone at your golf club, because it costs a lot of money.

However, in recent times it was my observation that the attempts in 2000 or even before that to get a bit of length on the Old Course got to sort of a limit in that if you confined the course to the old boundaries or limits of the course, you were stuck with it. But it was staring me in the face that if we took some territory from the new and the Eden courses, then the whole new vista opened up, and that's essentially what's happened. And I think now the Old Course has got sufficient length I'm getting to the extension of the holes, which I think is very praiseworthy, in view of the fact that the ball flies further than it did years ago, I think this has gone a long way in remedying that weakness, I guess we'd have to call it, the shortness. It's no longer short, it's long.

Q. Do you like the new 4th tee?

PETER THOMSON: 4th tee? I have my own personal criticism of the 4th. The 4th doesn't need a tee, it needs a fairway (laughter). In times gone by, like 50 years ago, I hesitate to keep saying this, 50 years ago, but we, in those times, drove off of the 15th fairway, that was all mown close, that plateau up there. There was a fringe of rough where the rough is now, but the actual plateau at the top was clean mown. And that's actually where everybody aimed and it worked beautifully. But about ten years ago I came back and noticed that it was no longer mown. I said, why? And they said, well, it's holding up play, because people playing on 15 and people playing up 4 are getting tangled up. And so this was the remedy for that problem.

But what we're left with now is quite inadequate with the fairway, it's 18 yards, a range now of about 260 yards. And I think if that happened at your club, there would be an uprising.

Q. You talked about the extension of the course. Essentially The Open Championship is now going to be played on three courses and a putting green?

PETER THOMSON: No, not so. I've been through this debate. For instance, if you drive off the 2nd tee onto the first of the new, you're not out of bounds, you're on the same course. And it has been like that for years. So strictly speaking, that bit of territory out there and wide of the third hole, it's part of the Old Course. That's the argument, anyway. I'm not trying to ram it down your throat. But that's the fact of the matter.

Q. The 13th and the 14th tees are on the Eden course?

PETER THOMSON: Supposing it is using other courses, so what? When we have our big event in Melbourne, we have what's called a composite course, and we use holes from both the west and the east courses, and we get the best of both, to the point now where the Royal Melbourne composite course is very famous for its strength. So I see no argument about using that other territory.

Q. The other question was about the bunkering. You mentioned it, the straight bunker on the 11th, and the angle of the hole from the second shot, I wonder what your opinion was on both of those?

PETER THOMSON: Well, as I say, the course just varies cosmetically over the years, as bunkers are rebuilt. If you go back and say, well, we should build them the way they were, well, how far do you go back? Because they've been moving about for two decades, to my knowledge. So it's pretty hard to pin down and say this is where the bunker ought to be, within a centimeter.

Q. Are you happy with the two specific instances that I brought up?

PETER THOMSON: Yeah, I'm happy with it as it is, but I'm just pointing out that it's slightly different than what it was.

Q. Do you think the Old Course how do you think it will look when The Open comes back in say 15, 20 years? Like it does today or do you think it will look differently?

PETER THOMSON: I don't think it will look any different, because essentially it hasn't looked different for the last 50 years. I mean the greens are the same, absolutely the same. The bunkering is just changed by the look of it, and just an extension of tees. That's the only change that's happened.

Q. The run on the course, does it run the same?

PETER THOMSON: I played over here one year, I forget which year it was, in the '70s, where we had a flood. It was pretty green that year, I promise. But another year I remember another thing I remember, and I think this is important, is the improvement in the turfgrass. Now, great care is taken that we don't ruin the sward out there by mowing it. When the mowers go across and do their work, there's a vacuum cleaner that goes behind it so the little clippings don't go into the soil and make humus, which would change the turf over a period of time. But even so, the turf is much, much better than it was 50 years ago. We commonly came across bare patches and little lush spots and things like that, but that was the part of the chance element in the game that was present in those times. The turf has improved immensely.

The other thing is the greens have gotten faster. And it's a fact that slow greens are more difficult to putt on than fast greens. And if we really wanted to make it the utmost difficulty, we wouldn't cut greens as fast and as smooth as they are.

If you look at that tape we played last year at the 250th, there's some marvelous little clips of every Open champion since James Braid and Taylor and the invention of cameras, I suppose. But when we got to the '30s and we saw Hagen and Sarazen, they were putting, and it was scarcely to be believed how hard they had to hit the putt to get it across the green. Now over years that's changed slowly until we got these billiard tables now to putt on, which is, I think, something lost.

Q. I wonder if you could tell us, if you recall, how you played the 14th hole 50 years ago. Were you able to hit it over the Beardies, and how do you play it now?

PETER THOMSON: 50 years ago on the last day, which was 36 holes of golf, by the mid afternoon I was going pretty well, and I had good knowledge that I was in front. There weren't leaderboards, but somehow or other there was a Bush telegraph that the caddies knew. How they knew, I don't know. They knew. And I had a comfortable lead of about three strokes playing 14.

Naturally I don't want to do anything stupid by slicing over the wall, I go for the left side, I go straight into the pin. This is the last hour of the championship. And they were deep, too, the Beardies, they still are, but I had to play out backwards. In other words, to get out I had to go the reverse direction. And then for some reason I did a whopping great shot. I got it over Hell Bunker, it would have been downwind, only to find when I got to the ball I was in another one, called The Grave. And that's got a little shallow lip on it.

But again, I was right against the lip, so twice now I have to go backwards on that 14th hole and I made 7. So the lead was gone or squandered. But anyway I'm talking about the 14th hole. You asked me my experience of it. I very nearly suffered like Bobby Locke did. He was going along in 1949 and 1946, both times he got caught in the Beardies. But I got caught but I made a birdie on the next hole, the 15th, which gave me a bit of a margin.

Q. How much of a carry was it back then to get over, do you remember?

PETER THOMSON: It wasn't you could reach the fairway easily enough. I don't recall any worry about that, but it was trying to hit straight, particularly with the wind blowing. That small ball used to move enormously in the wind, and you had to allow for it, you couldn't aim ten feet off the line, you had to allow it 20 yards off. So the length wasn't a problem, it was the oh, and the second shot hitting across Hell, wisely everybody used to play up the 5th fairway.

Q. Given the progress in club technology in 50 years, how has the demands on the players, itself, changed in terms of skill level to get around the course?

PETER THOMSON: I have no quarrel with the golf sticks. I think the advance in say the grip, itself, has been a marvelous thing for all golfers that play golf. It enables us to hang on to the club, where in those times we had shiny leather. I remember even in Arnold's time he used to wrap a new set of grips on every morning, because they wear, leather used to wear. But nowadays the materials they use for that end of the golf stick is beautiful to handle. And the heads are bigger and more accurately made, they're almost engineeringly made now. So the implements are much more helpful. I don't quarrel with that at all.

But the flight of the golf ball has been the curse of our modern golf. But fortunately something is being done about it eventually, now.

Q. Does it require less mental skill to get around, if you've got a driver that will get you onto the green or if they're helping the player more? Was it more difficult as a player 50 years ago than it is now?

PETER THOMSON: Well, the implements we used were more difficult to handle, I'll put it that way; it wasn't more brain work. I don't think the human brain has developed any further than it was 50 years ago. We're stuck with the same worries and cares and prejudices and things like that. But things have the medium has changed, the course, itself, I've been trying to explain. You had to suffer bad lies, you had to putt on slow greens, the way the ball jumped a bit. That was part of the game then.

So everything that's happened in the development of the game has actually taken away some of the chance that was there in golf. One of the great things about our game is the element of chance, it's pretty big, as games go. And I hope it will always remain so.

Q. What can be done to stop the Old Course becoming obsolete?

PETER THOMSON: It's already being done. I think the extension of it and hopefully the adjustment of the ball, which must surely come in a few years, will bring it back to where it was. And in the adjustment of the ball, what I hope to see in my lifetime and that the ball is affected by wind, or air, the way it was in the 1950s, 1960s. Then it's not length. This obsessive worry about how far the ball goes, in my view that's not the principle problem, it's the fact that the ball is not moved by wind, even hitting crosswind now the players have only to allow, with even a driver, 20 feet. In fact, they all complain now that trying to hit around trees the ball won't move. You've heard that, haven't you? I tried to slice it and it went straight.

Q. Are you talking about one specification for amateurs and professionals?

PETER THOMSON: Sure, there shouldn't be two balls for amateur and professionals, no need.

Q. When you talk about 50 years ago the equipment and the differences, which year would you rather be playing, and would you like to have a chance to go now?

PETER THOMSON: I'd be dreaming if I had an option, wouldn't I? I don't know, I think the modern era is more pleasurable, without any doubt. The old time was a time of hard work, I think, and worry about things that might happen to you on the golf course, I mean. You had more to worry about then than I have now.

Q. Then, what was was there a huge difference in the status of the players? What was your routine when you were here playing 50 years ago?

PETER THOMSON: Well, I came here first in September of 1954 and stayed in Rusack's Hotel, which at that time was one of the very few houses of accommodation you could possibly enter. There was still railway sheds where the Old Course hotel is now. And the train used to come in there two or three times a day. But I was telling somebody here recently, a group that I spoke to, when you come here as a player, you're out in Rusack's or the Old Course Hotel even now, and you go and play your round and you go down to the practice range probably. There wasn't one in my day, but that's where you spend another couple of hours. And then obviously you go back to the hotel or to the where the family is or if you're on your own, you still go back there. And really you spend the whole week doing that. And you never know what's going on up in the town.

I didn't know in the first 20 years I came here. I had no idea what was happening in the town. I was all worried about what was happening down on the course. So that's what happens to the golfer's life, here. This is an amazing place, historically. It's sort of the seat of the reformation, at least in Britain, and it's the great seat of learning, since 1412. It's very unique, this place. And the golfers who play professional golf never know.

Q. Do you think they should know? Do you think they should go downtown and find out?

PETER THOMSON: Oh, no, no, I'm not preaching that, no. No, it's precious knowledge. I wouldn't give it away. I'd make people first of all want to go and find out about it. And secondly, give it some time. And then it doesn't come in an hour's tour around the town on a bus.

Q. Do you think they should play The Open here (inaudible.)

PETER THOMSON: There's some thinking for that. I remember Dai Ries used to be a great proponent on that. I'd hate to think we would not play it on Lytham, St. Anne's and Birkdale and Troon and all the others, that would be sad, I think. In any case, the town wouldn't tolerate it. This course belongs to the town. And I think there's some sufferance here in this week, in my ways, moving about, parking, as well, if you haven't noticed it. No, I don't think the town wants it every year.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Peter Thomson, five time Open Champion.

End of FastScripts.

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