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July 19, 2006

Peter Thomson


STEWART McDOUGALL: Ladies and gentlemen, we have with us today Peter Thomson, one of the all-time great names in World Golf, five times British Open champion.

Peter, I don't want to harp on your age, but off today's field of 156 players, only two were born when you won here in '56; one was Tom Watson, who was six years old; and Fred Funk, who was three weeks old. So apart from that, the rest of the 154 players weren't even born.

PETER THOMSON: This is not a senior tournament, is it? Seniors are excluded, I would think.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Thank you for coming along. You won here in '56. Just tell us your impression 50 years after that how you see the course, how you see things changing.

PETER THOMSON: Well, I've been answering this question for about a year, but truthfully my memory is fairly dim. But I do remember that when I came to practice I really couldn't make head nor tail of the course. I built up a fair amount of pessimism that I wasn't going to win because always when I played I had a plan to play a course; I found out where the trouble was and figured out how to keep out of it and make the most of the opportunities elsewhere. But this course, I never really got the hang of it, even after I won.

So that's what I remember most. This is a very difficult course to figure out, as no doubt the players are finding. You can't sort of be able to plot your way around like at St. Andrews or Birkdale. It's a very complex and difficult course, this. That's my memory of it, frankly.

Q. Can you imagine any conceivable conditions where you would have played what was the first in your day with a 7-iron off the tee, and a 7-iron into the green?

PETER THOMSON: No, but that's -- I'm sure -- we didn't do that. I remember using the driver with my heart in my mouth the first morning. And fortunately it didn't go over the line, but it was a pretty scary hole in those days.

Q. Would you have hit driver on every hole back then?

PETER THOMSON: I believe so. I have no question to doubt that. We did play or I played two other events here; one was a professional event, might of been a Martini event here, and the '67 Open I played here, too. But I don't remember ever choking down off the tee, not with that old ball we used to play with.

Q. Was it inconceivable in your day to hit only three drivers in one round?

PETER THOMSON: Well, I think that's a modern bit of technique and planning to keep out of trouble, because they hit the ball so damn far that the margin for error is so much less now than it was in my time. But probably today I'd be using the same tactics, choking down.

Q. How good a putter were you, and how did you rate yourself against the best at that time?

PETER THOMSON: Well, I never rated myself as a good putter at all. Somebody wrote, I read this morning in the Telegraph, about linking me with Gary Player and Arnold Palmer; they were good putters. I watched with envy the way they could knock putts in, particularly Arnold. But, no, I wasn't in that category.

But I was careful. Two putts was a satisfactory outcome for me. Now and again I got one. But I don't think I ever went around under 32 putts. They were in the 20s. But nobody else did, either, in those times.

Q. Could I ask you again about the duels with Christy O'Connor. Did you almost feel you had the Indian sign over Christy, if you saw him coming about?

PETER THOMSON: Well, no, Christy, because I suppose he didn't win, he never loomed large as somebody to be worried about, to tell you the truth. Locke was the one in the '50s you had to watch out for. He was fit and he seldom lost, but if he was, he was the one you had to keep ahead of. Sorry about Christy, but I love him dearly, but I -- he always had the wobbles on the short game or the putting anyway, didn't he? He didn't putt like a champion for style.

Q. Did it hurt somewhat that the Championship was gone from this course for so long, and what was your emotion when you found out that the Royal Liverpool was the stage again?

PETER THOMSON: It didn't affect my life at all (laughter).

Q. Many players feel that the gap is now closing between them at the top. Could you see Tiger Woods joining you in the Hall of Fame with five wins?

PETER THOMSON: Yes, if he plays long enough. I mean, I played for 30 years. So my strike rate wasn't too good when you think about it. I doubt if he'll win three in a row, but if he sticks at it long enough he's bound to win five.

Q. How important was Birkdale in '65 in terms of your overall achievements in The Open, given that there was a certain criticism in the '50s that a lot of the Americans weren't there. They were all there in '65. Was that very important to you?

PETER THOMSON: Well, that was just a progression, I suppose. Prior to that if I'd have been an American, I probably wouldn't have been here, either, because Sam Snead, when he won in 1946, he lost $3,000 doing it. That might be an exaggeration.

But, no, the incentive wasn't there. There was always a good sprinkling of players interested in coming to play. In '55, for instance, Byron Nelson came, who had been retired from tournaments for 20 years, I suppose. But Cary Middlecoff was there, U.S. Open champion, Ed Furgol. If you look at the list, there was always half a dozen good ones.

But sometimes I think they foolishly played with a smaller ball, which they couldn't handle, because if you're not born with a small ball, you'll never get the hang of it. But coming from the other side, if you learn to play golf with a small ball you find the big one very easy, which it is.

Q. I think there's something like 23 Australians in the field now.


Q. I was just wondering how many played the year you won here, does it surprise you that the number of Australians who are making it through now?

PETER THOMSON: This is certainly the biggest number we've ever had, I'm sure because in '56 there would have been Norman von Nida, for sure, Kel Nagle wasn't here, Bill Shankland, of course, was here, because he lived here. There was probably only two here playing in '56. But anyway, again, the same reason that there weren't many Australians, because it was really too expensive to risk the outlay.

What was the other question?

Q. I'm just wondering, does it give you some sort of sense of pride about the number coming through now and the reasons for it?

PETER THOMSON: Yes, it does, but I shouldn't shout it, should I (laughter). I feel very sympathetic to Scotland.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Only four players.

Q. Three and a half.

PETER THOMSON: Three and a half players. No, anyway, it's a sign that our nursery in Australia is pretty productive of good players. I think the essence of it is that they're self-reliant and largely self-taught. And we do have the opportunity in Australia for young players to readily, easily play golf; there's a golf course seemingly just around the corner somewhere. And they're receptive to kids after school and things like that.

That opportunity to play doesn't apply elsewhere, really, even in the U.S. And as for Japan, it's really impossible for young people to play a lot of golf, whereas we can play to our heart's content as young people. That's my answer, anyway.

Q. When you started playing well in The Open Championship, was there something that you brought here each year that you felt, other than confidence? What was it about playing in The Open that made you feel comfortable and that you knew that you would probably be in there at the end?

PETER THOMSON: Well, as I grew up and played a bit more reliably. I think my average in those times were probably 71 point something, and I realized that looking at the scores of the previous year's scores, if I did shoot 71s, I'd probably win. I looked at it like that.

I had that plan always, which I had in my head for months, of how to get around in 71 four times. And it worked. And I didn't really have in my head it was also playing well; I just said I'm going to do four 71s and see what happens.

Q. What was the routine in terms of -- you know how they get crazy now with the Mickelsons being here way ahead of time. What was the routine for you back then? When did you show up and how many practice rounds did you generally get in?

PETER THOMSON: Well, the program in the 1950s, if I recall, wasn't full at all. There were several weeks' gap in the program here in Britain. There weren't European tournaments, either, until August. So that there was plenty of time for me or anyone else to actually come to the course and play weeks ahead, just one round and then off we'd go to wherever the next tournament was. With that in the back of one's mind, the real event is coming. And I just had that attitude about the Championship that it was the most important week of the year and so I prepared as best I could that way.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Can I add something, Peter; did you have to qualify for the Championship --

PETER THOMSON: You know the answer.

STEWART McDOUGALL: The defending champion had to play and qualify for the Championship; he wasn't exempt.

PETER THOMSON: Yeah, I always reckoned that was a damned good idea, because it gave one, even the defender, a chance to play seriously on the big course. Put yourself to the test, as it were. For instance, at Lytham in '58 in the qualifying round I went around in 63. So that got my tail up a bit. But the first round I did a lousy 66 (laughter).

Anyway, now all that's gone, with the broadening of the Championship, which went to four days, and the U.S. television came in and wanted to show it, because Arnold was here and then Jack was here, everything grew. And things changed. For instance, when I played here in 56 and won, I played with a Dutch man called Gerry de Wit the last two rounds, which was on the last day; we played 36 holes. So I wasn't playing with another leader. I don't know where the other leader was, I didn't care much.

But I may have finished even half an hour or an hour before the second, Flory van Donck. I don't know where he was in the field, but he wasn't with me. But that was circumstances of those times. And the whole thing was run by Brigadier Brickman; he was the one-man match committee. We didn't need any advisors on course; players always sorted it out for themselves.

Q. Just to go back to the previous question, you -- are we as good in St. Andrews with our juniors here as they are in Australia?

PETER THOMSON: I've noticed in St. Andrews there's a lot of activity with the juniors, especially noticeable is the girls. There's something like supporters of youth golf.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Called St. Andrews Junior Golf Association.

Q. I think St. Andrews is unique all over the UK.

PETER THOMSON: St. Andrews is all on its own. That's all under my nose, as I went to play on Monday on The Old Course, I saw four young girls who wouldn't have been 16, I don't think, also playing on The Old Course. And I thought, well, if that's what's going to happen, and they'll be as good as anybody on earth, I reckon. To grow up and learn to play golf on the St. Andrews links I think should be the best training that there is. Lousy lies, fierce winds (laughter), all that.

Q. How did you get on, Peter, on Monday?

PETER THOMSON: Oh, I lost. It cost me money.

Q. Did you have any secret for handling pressure situations, sort of the kind Colin Montgomerie faced at the U.S. Open?

PETER THOMSON: You want me to give it to you for free?

Q. Please.

PETER THOMSON: No, of course I didn't. But I think -- for instance, last month when Monty actually lost, I thought the Championship -- I gave him full credit for trying to win. Now, I think with the modern player they've got a mindset that it's possible to hit every shot stone dead, like that. No matter where they put the flag, these players have an automatic shot at it. And he tried to get his second shot from the fairway to get in near the flag somewhere.

Now, the sensible thing, really, was to hit it away from the flag. But that's a discipline that's not, I think, known about in this day and age. They all did it at St. Georges, if you remember. The flag was not approachable. There's plenty of green to play to the left of it and two short putts, I'd say. But they all tried to get it in like that, as did Monty. I think at some point as you're describing, you've got to say to yourself as a player, will I take the risk on this shot, the second shot, or the next one, the third shot. And I think it's sensible if the odds are not in your favour, that you don't try the risky shot before it's time.

Q. I remember you saying as well a few years ago that when you saw yourself swinging on television, you always looked the other way. You never wanted to see an image of yourself. Why was that?

PETER THOMSON: It was film, actually. That was before TV (laughter). Well, I think one's concept of how you play is within yourself, in here, between your ears. And when I did see myself I thought, that can't be me; I don't do that, do I? So it shook me, because I always felt that I must look like Sam Snead. And it was a dreadful shock to find out that I didn't. So I resolved not to watch it again.

But I still think -- I've watched the advent of the video coaching, and I think Ian Baker-Finch, he's a victim of this, that I think he watched himself so many times on the video that when he got up to hit a ball all he could think of was how he looked. Whereas really, when you're playing your game, all you ought to have is how it feels, how the club feels in your hands, and how the ball will feel when you strike it. They're the important things.

And you can't look at yourself from the outside in, in my view. I think that's terribly destructive to teach golf by video, of yourself, really. So that might try to answer your question, I hope.

Now, I want to say something. I'm sort of astonished, I just read a piece this morning about the lack of attention given to Geoff Ogilvy. He's a guy that's at the top of the rankings in the U.S. this year. If you just put it in this calendar year, he's the top dog, won the two biggest events in the program. He ought to be almost the favourite to win here, best chance. And I believe he has got the best chance, too.

He showed he was better than Mickelson, who made a dreadful mess of that last hole, trying to belt the cover off the ball. And I think he deserves to be thought of a bit more. But, you see, since he won The Open he's been in Australia, I suppose reflecting with his family and our media, and so he's been a kind of sleeper. He's 50 to 1, for God's sake. I think that's ridiculous.

However, I'm glad he got a good draw. He's not with the big names and he's got a good time. I think he'll do well. So, having said that, I go back to your question.

Q. I was just wondering, do you think with all the money there is on the modern game, it's too easy for sort of modern players, if you like, to become too comfortable?

PETER THOMSON: Well, you said it and I agree with you. I think not too many people actually want to win desperately or have it in their makeup that they really squirm if they don't win. I think a lot of people are content to be not the managing director, but to be a general sales manager or something like that. The responsibility of the top is too much for most people.

I think as Henry V said, what did he say, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." Not everybody wants the crown.

Q. What motivates somebody like Tiger Woods? What drives him?

PETER THOMSON: I don't know. I've observed, just the way you do. He's a very determined person to succeed -- well, he's already succeeded. If he never wins another tournament, his reputation is made. But he's after higher, more glorious heights than anyone's ever dreamt of, I think. But he's having a bit of a stumble, I think. He'll play well again, I'm sure.

Q. Just on Ogilvy, Peter, do you feel that he has been slighted by lack of respect or attention that would have been his due as the champion he is?

PETER THOMSON: Well, I think a couple of things; one is that the world media doesn't pay a lot of attention to the U.S. Open. It's a strange thing to say, but I think that's one of the reasons we haven't been thinking of Ogilvy. Who's Ogilvy? And the other is that he's a very modest fellow and doesn't make a lot of noise and he's been just sleeping for the last month. But he might be ready. I hope he is.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Peter, thank you very much.

End of FastScripts.

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