May 27, 1998
WES SEELEY: We are joined by this year's Memorial Tournament honoree and this year's President Cup's captain for the international side, Peter Thomson.
PETER THOMSON: Good. That's me.
Q. That would be you, pal. Well, first the matter at hand. Your thoughts about the honor that is being bestowed upon you.
PETER THOMSON: Well, this is awesome and I'm looking ahead to this afternoon with some nervousness. I hope and trust it goes well. My wife assures me there's nothing to worry about. Still, I worry. Anyway, I'm really very honored to be such, and at my age and stage, it means a lot.
WES SEELEY: Questions. Comments.
Q. Give us an update on the Presidents Cup and how things are going in Australia.
PETER THOMSON: Right. Okay. Melbourne is all on the edge of their seats waiting for this to happen, and it should be a huge success. The venue is such that it's a popular venue within Australia and in the Pacific. And the management by the Tour, Mike Bodney himself, has been magnificent and well received by Melbourne. So, you know everybody is really agog about it and waiting to see who will make the team. That's the big question.
Q. What kind of team are you hoping to have, other than one that will win?
PETER THOMSON: Right. Well, I'd be happy to have the team that I captained two years back in Washington. And if you recall, we lost on that occasion by a whisker. So I reckoned if I had that team in the same form next December, that the whisker would be the other side and we would be the winners not the losers. But it won't be the same team, so I don't know yet.
Q. What kind of player is suited to that course?
PETER THOMSON: Well, it's a course rather like Augusta. In fact, it has the same architecture; that is, it's sort of wide and open from the tee. Then everything funnels down to the crunch of the greens. That was MacKenzie's conception of what a course ought to be. So, all right, who would you select to dominate a place like that? Well, it's almost automatic, isn't it? TW.
Q. He's on the other side.
PETER THOMSON: That's unfortunately so. I heard he's proud of his Thai connections, so I thought he might be able to play for us, so that may be worth something.
Q. Have you spoken to Greg about his fitness?
PETER THOMSON: He assures me he will be willing, able, and ready by then if not earlier. He plans to play again during October, but I think this forced layoff will be good for him. He will come back with renewed interest and vigor, I think.
Q. How important is a fit Greg Norman to the team?
PETER THOMSON: He's sort of the lynch pin. Without him, we would lose it on a spirit, I'm sure.
Q. Peter, this session here is about you with the five British Open victories. Does any one of those particularly stand out, the first one perhaps?
PETER THOMSON: Well, I have to answer that as I've done many times by saying they're like your children; you have to love them equally, otherwise one gets offended that they're not top of the list. So I always give that answer.
Q. Yeah. How about on a particular -- any of the courses there you enjoy more than the other?
PETER THOMSON: Oh, I love them all really. I mean, I love the old course most of all for sentimental reasons, but every one of those courses on that roster is a magnificent golf course, every one. It's Royal Birkdale this year, by the way, and you'll all be there no doubt. I won twice there, so I have a special affection for the place.
Q. Read the article in the program about you and being the honoree, and I got the impression from the article that you would have been okay if you never would have been a golfer, you could have been equally, you know, pretty happy.
PETER THOMSON: Well, you of all people ought to know that you don't believe everything you read. But I don't know, if fate had sent me in another direction, I think I would have ended up just as happy as I am now. One wonderful thing happened, of course, when I turned to golf and that is that I didn't have to work. So I've led a life of an idlest. But maybe if I'd have had to work, I would be a bit different now.
Q. You didn't consider your golf preparation as work?
PETER THOMSON: Never.
Q. Is that because it's enjoyable or it was easy?
PETER THOMSON: Yeah. Well, I grew up understanding that golf was a game that we played, so I played it.
Q. Referring back to the British Open, in the last say 15 or 20, 25 years, it's become much bigger in the United States. It was always the biggest tournament around the world, I would think certainly in Europe and perhaps in Australia. Can you discuss in reflecting on that and the importance of the tournament in the U.S. vis-a-vis the rest of the world?
PETER THOMSON: Well, I think television is responsible for that. It's visible, whereas in 1960, I suppose, it wasn't visible. You had to read about it. So that's why it's so well known now in this part of the world, and indeed Australia, probably China and Russia as well. That's the reason it's more exposed. And by the exposure, they've been able to get the prize up now to where it's sort of top dollar. I don't know if it's the richest event in the world, is it? It must be near it anyway. So that lures all the best players. Whereas pride, there was always a sprinkling of the top U.S. players, of course, the greats of the United States were the perennial winners, Hagen won four times, Sarazen won twice, I think. They were always there, but, you know, there's never the great onslaught that there is now.
Q. When Hogan went over, and I think Snead may have only gone over once, did you compete in those tournaments, I assume?
PETER THOMSON: I was too young to compete in 1946 when Snead won, and I certainly was there when Hogan won, because I finished in a tie for second. And oddly enough in those times, the structure of the thing was such that they made a draw once everyone was registered. So it came out as a list and you played in a pair with the person next to you on the list. And after the 36 holes, they just put a line through the people that hadn't made the grade, and you just went up the list. It turned out that I played behind Hogan because he survived the cut, of course, and so did I. I played behind him actually four rounds. And if you do recall, he was rather a deliberate player. So I saw a lot of his golf. And I played with the same man, Arthur Lees also for the four rounds. So I ended up seeing every shot in the end. But that's the answer to your question. I was certainly there as a witness.
Q. Going back to the Carnoustie after a gap of 23 years. Did you particularly like that course?
PETER THOMSON: Not particularly, no. No, I didn't. I don't know why. It was just I played twice without a lot of enjoyment. One of the things that Carnoustie suffered from was lack of accommodation. The hotels were hovels, rather depressing ones. Now they're building a brand new one which will be ready in time which will relieve the pressure a bit. But that's why I didn't go back there for all these years.
Q. It seemed like the majority of your success came outside of the United States. Did this honor come as any shock or surprise that even though you hadn't done that well in the states during your regular career that they chose to honor you?
PETER THOMSON: Well, I don't know what's in the minds of the people who chose me as the honoree, but it could be they're running out of people. I mean, they're going to the cemetery now to find people. Anyway, I'm really very grateful. I've been coming here and enjoying your hospitality for 47 years, so I'm a great -- I suppose a very grateful beneficiary of yours. So this honor that comes this afternoon is really more -- it's undeserved, but it's very nice to have it.
Q. How many times have you been honored like this? You were at the World Series last year, too.
PETER THOMSON: Now, don't you be telling stories like that. Well, as I say, I'm at the stage of my career, my life and career, where this happens. I mean, imagine what's going to happen to Jack. He'll be doing one of these every week. So as I say, at my age and stage, this happens. I'm glad they didn't wait, by the way.
Q. The Presidents Cup, can you just tell us who's helping you or who's going to be --
PETER THOMSON: Yeah. I thought it was public knowledge but it's not exactly, so I'm happy to tell you that I've taken on the assistance of Wayne Grady. He will be titled the captain's assistant, and his function will be to do things that I can't get around to doing in regard to the team. He's been chosen because of his popularity with the team. And it's a very deserving, I think, honor for him, because he's such a worthy fellow. And he will be there on that occasion by my side doing things I can't get around to doing and advising.
Q. Have you talked to Wayne Grady recently about the U.S. Open, because I know his application didn't get in on time?
PETER THOMSON: No. I don't know his situation, no. He's here, though. You should ask him. He's playing, isn't he?
WES SEELEY: Yes, he is.
Q. You mentioned a second ago that you understood that golf was a game where you played it and that's why you played. Do you think it's still a game or do you think the TV and the money has changed things?
PETER THOMSON: Well, it's a pretty sad thing if it's not a game. I mean, I -- somewhere in the middle of my life, I heard the word mentioned that was golf is an industry suddenly which was a big shock and surprise to me. I never looked at it like that. But from many points of view, it is an industry. The people who make the balls and the clubs and the socks and the shoes and all that, to them, it's an industry. But on the other hand, it depends upon the fact that it is played as a game. And I hope really the authorities of the game respect this, that it musn't become too commercial and the awards too certain for those that are involved. It's got to be, I think, a game of chance: That you take your chances, whether you win a prize or not. I don't think anything should be guaranteed in that way. But I just hear as I turn my ear that such things are planned, that there will be a tour where everybody is guaranteed a pretty whopping income plus pension and all the other things that go with it. To my mind, that would be a sad day. I think professional golf or people who play golf for a living are a special group of people, at least they have been up to now. You know, there's a great honor in the game. People do behave perfectly. You don't get very far if you don't in golf. We don't need policeman by the way, but inevitably they're current on the scene. But it's a game of honor and a game of chance, and I think it ought to stay that way. I hope so. In other words, the pro part of golf shouldn't be that different from the amateur part.
Q. How rewarding was the success of the Senior Tour for you?
PETER THOMSON: Well, that's a nice, interesting question, because I came to play when the Tour was really an infant and nobody knew really whether it would survive or not. And the first year we came in, I think, 1982 we played in eight events. There might have been a couple that we missed, but there weren't more than ten. And then in '83, there was a big increase of about 15. By '84, there was 20 or 22. So really, we were there at the beginning, and it was really hard work for the pioneers in making it go. We had to attend three cocktail parties and a dinner every week and a couple of Pro Ams, but that's how it got off the ground. And it was very, very enjoyable. It was social. I mean, you made good friends with the people -- the amateur people at the various events, and we enjoyed it immensely, that part of it. And then as time went by, of course, it took off, and now there are as many events as there are weeks in the year. But I understand it's a bit more serious now than it used to be. There's not so much fun to it and not so much social contact as we had. But anyway, while it lasted for us, we had great fun. It was marvelous.
Q. Yesterday Jack was in here and was talking about the modern professional golfer, how probably for the first time you had a situation where a person could be a professional golfer without doing anything else in his life and be wealthy and secure. Do you agree with that now, and if so, what is your observations on that?
PETER THOMSON: Well, it's certainly true. But I don't know that it's so modern. I mean, I think that's been the case since the 19 -- late 1950s, I suppose. But it's interesting to reflect that Sam Snead, for instance, was truthfully a club pro. He was never without a club pro job, and even Hogan was attached to a club or two during his great years. It was just after that era when I suppose Arnold came along that it wasn't necessary any more to have that backing or that backup. You know, if you started 3-putting, at least you knew that the till was going in and out in the pro shop and your kids weren't going to starve. Jack is right. Nowadays that doesn't happen. You can be a whole and able ball player now and concentrate your life on that.
Q. But you've said earlier that you would hate to see the pro game differ that much from the amateur game. It seems to me like that all the things that are happening now are going to widen the gap between amateur golf and professional golf.
PETER THOMSON: Yeah. That's as I see it, and I would be sorry to see it. I worry what the end result is going to be.
Q. What's your observation on equipment? There's a lot of talk in America that we may experience some rules changes that could apply just to professionals.
PETER THOMSON: No. My view is that there shouldn't and there won't be any such thing. All rules would apply to everybody. Amateur players, as well as pros, they would play under the same rules. But what's long overdue is attention to the golf ball. In my time, the golf ball or the improvement of the golf ball has been the single most astonishing thing in my time. It may be part of the computer age, but the design of the golf ball has made it so much aerodynamically better in that it penetrates the wind much better than the 1.62 ball used to penetrate the wind. The wind has less effect. In other words, on the modern ball than it did 20, 30 years ago. And I personally would like to see that attended to. I think this -- the way the ball is hit these days and the -- not only the distance it's hit, but the way it is unaffected by wind is now influencing the design of courses, which means that more real estate is demanded to make a course. The targets are getting smaller and smaller to my observation. I'm beginning to miss more greens than I used to. But it's overdue that we should do something about the ball. The rest of it, I don't see much real improvement. I don't think implements, the bat that we use are much better than they used to be. The grip end of it is certainly a big improvement. I started playing with shiny leather. And if you pick up an old club with a shiny leather grip, you wonder how in the world anybody ever played with them. In fact, we all played with them, people before me, Snead, Byron Nelson, Hogan, because that was all that was available. So that grip on the end of the shaft, that's a huge improvement. But it's the ball that needs attention, urgent, urgent attention.
Q. What would you do?
PETER THOMSON: I would -- if it's possible for a golf ball company to design a ball that penetrates the wind so easily, it's also simple for the authorities of the game to also design a ball which doesn't penetrate the wind so easily. It would be a simple matter of going back to the dimple patterns, for instance, of 30 years ago. And then if you get the slightest bit of wind blowing, it means you can't drive as far. It means when you're hitting a crosswind, you have to make more allowance for it, which brings back, again, that old skill that one would have to have, and I think that's desirable.
Q. Do you think they should do that to all golf balls that would be used by amateurs and pros?
PETER THOMSON: No. What I think is desirable is that the authorities should nominate a championship ball. In other words, if you enter this event, you have to play balls of this specification. Now, that would mean really that if anyone aspired to winning the championship they'd have to really practice with it or use it week-in, week-out, and then that would lead to it being a universal ball eventually. But it wouldn't preclude the other balls at all. People could buy whatever they like, but if you enter the championship, you have to use this particular ball, the championship ball. They do it in tennis, you know, it's some sort of analogy.
Q. Can we go back to the Presidents Cup for just a minute. I'm wondering whether you think it's fair for people to ask questions comparing the Ryder Cup to the Presidents Cup, and whether -- what do you think it might -- what might be needed and how long it might take for the Presidents Cup to reach the stature of the Ryder Cup, if it can?
PETER THOMSON: Well, I heard Jack comment on this. He said eventually it would be bigger. I've been sitting behind him when he's made that statement.
Q. Do you agree with that?
PETER THOMSON: Well, I would -- I wonder about that. I mean, the passion that's involved in the Ryder Cup is always frightening. I mean, I would be a little scared to be on the U.S. team to play in Birmingham, for instance. It's not a very nice scene as I recall the last time that it took place. Anyway, that won't happen with the international team, because it's not so national. It's international. And this year in Australia, the team will be Japanese and Fujian and a New Zealander and Zimbabwean, south African. It won't be an Australian team. Now, whether that's a formula for the biggest thing in golf, I don't know. I wonder. But it -- if Jack's right, it would be at least as big as the Ryder Cup. It would be.
Q. What has to happen for that to happen?
PETER THOMSON: The international team has to establish itself as a winner. It's got to be seen to be as good a team as the Ryder Cup Team from Europe or the U.S. team. That's what's going to happen. Until it happens, I think it's fanciful to think it would be bigger. I think it's right around the corner. I think in Melbourne the international team will win. That will establish this legitimacy as you call it. My wish is the thing becomes a three-cornered conquest. I would think that's in everybody's interest.
Q. How would that work?
PETER THOMSON: Well, it would be three teams involved in one event.
Q. Not alternating between --
PETER THOMSON: No.
Q. Not swinging them around?
PETER THOMSON: No. I think that a three-cornered event would be wonderful.
Q. Would you play it every year?
PETER THOMSON: No, I don't think so. No. One of the good things about it is that it's not played every year, I think.
Q. Except that the American players are playing in something every year, is that going to take the edge off of them? Is that going to change their feelings about the importance of these types of matches?
PETER THOMSON: It's a worry, I hear, and I don't blame the U.S. players for voicing their worry that they have to front up every year to, you know, represent the country and either win or be disgraced. But it would worry me, and I suppose if the team changes every year, and it does little by little, doesn't it, then that's enough. It sort of gets washed through and new players come up and get in the team. It's not quite the same team every time. Even year by year, I think it would be different. Anyway, the answer is like you all just watch and see what happens. Nobody knows what the future is.
WES SEELEY: Anything else, folks? ? Congratulations.
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