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July 16, 2007

Peter Thomson


STEWART McDOUGALL: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Peter Thomson, five times Open champion.
Peter, this year Tiger Woods has the chance to win three Opens in a row and you were the last person to do that in 1956. Do you think that's possible this year? Do you think this is going to be three in a row for Tiger.
PETER THOMSON: He has a chance to win eight in a row. I think he's got an excellent chance. If I could do it, surely he could.
STEWART McDOUGALL: You finished second here, Peter, in The Open at Carnoustie. Tell us your recollection of that championship, back in the '50s.
PETER THOMSON: Well, it was a very small affair, if I remember well, which I don't, I suppose. It seemed to be an out of the way place to come to play. It was dominated by the presence of Hogan, who came quite early, in fact he came three weeks before the championship in order, strangely, to change balls. Having come from the U.S. he was accustomed to the 1.68 ball, but he chose to use the 1.62, strangely. All of us couldn't really reason that out why he did so. It took him three weeks to get the feel of the smaller ball sitting a bit tighter to the turf and a bit more difficult to chip and putt. I understand from an authority that he was on the verge of quitting and going home, but he decided to stay on.
But I remember more about him than I do about myself because I was still quite young, then, and starry eyed, but I couldn't quite remember what happened, frankly.

Q. One of the newspapers in the U.S. had a story the other day about a touring pro who played a round with persimmon woods and old clubs just to get the experience of it. He said he shot an 80 and it was a completely different game because the ball moved so much differently. How much of a revolution has that been and how much has the game changed just because of the equipment?
PETER THOMSON: We're speaking of the ball, I guess --

Q. And the clubs.
PETER THOMSON: But the change of the ball size in my lifetime was a huge change. I don't think it was realized at the time when it happened. It had a very spurious bit of reasoning behind it, too. It was the result of a whole decade or two decades of dismal performances by the British Ryder Cup team. And it was decided by the elite that if the next generation learned to play golf with a large ball they would match the American team. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with America, at all. It was to do with making a better Ryder Cup team. Of course they wouldn't at that stage have tolerated the presence in the team of any Australians or South Africans or Canadians. But part of it is volunteering. The next thing I read about is it they had Spaniards and Germans and Swedes -- no Aussies.
Anyway, that's to do with the ball. But at the time we used to play with the 1.62 ball. You had difficulty getting it airborne, frankly, after these kind of fairways. Not this year, but certainly last year playing with a small ball would have been a nightmare off that very tight turf. And that's why I think that Hogan came so early to get accustomed to that. That's the main difference.
But the clubs, I don't know where he found the old clubs, but none of them were much good, particularly in the shaft department. The steel shaft used to be like broom sticks. If you ever pick up one of those 1953 clubs you'll say, How the hell did they ever play with this? It was, well, difficult, but then you didn't have to beat the course, you had to beat each other. So the right man got to the top usually. So that's what I remember for you. Interesting question.

Q. You had so much success on these islands, winning five times, but very little in the United States. Why was that? Did you not like the game as much over there as over here?
PETER THOMSON: At that time, I suppose it's true to say, that I didn't like it so much. Prior to 1960 the U.S. Tour was played predominantly on public courses that were quite inferior, some of them were dreadful. And I sort of longed to be here playing on Sunnydale and Wentworth and Moretown and places like St. Andrews. And one day I got brave enough to tell myself, well, I've got to do that. But I was up against the fact that I was still learning, mostly, in the 1950s. And there was a whole crop of pretty good players you had to jump over. There was Hogan, Snead, Boris, he was one of the great players, Jack Burke, people like that were pretty formidable in my eyes. So little Pete didn't get himself to the top. Anyway, never mind.

Q. We just had before your conference that Seve is calling time as a pro golfer after all that time. How highly do you rate him, looking back on the great players?
PETER THOMSON: He was one of the two greatest natural golfers I ever saw. The other one was Sam Snead. And I give him the praise that he was the most gifted young golfer that I'd come across. His exploits bore that out. When he did mature he was pretty good, good as anyone of his time.

Q. Were you kidding about the eight in a row with regard to Tiger, sort of kidding or making a joke or do you think that's conceivable?
PETER THOMSON: No, I'm telling you, I'm serious about it. I nearly went five in a row. The fourth one I sort of threw away, not quite the way Mickelson did, but I finished second at St. Andrews at my fourth run and I felt that I should have won that if I had been a bit smarter. Luck beat me there. But then I won the next one. If you could think about it, it would have been -- well, not easy, but it would have been a fact that I did five. So as I say, if I can do three or five, then Tiger can certainly do better than that, as long as he keeps his interest and he's willing to go through that preparation that he does. He'll get sick of that one day.

Q. Borg was happy to see Federer equal his record at Wimbledon. Would you share those sentiments if Tiger were to equal your record on Sunday?
PETER THOMSON: Of course. Already I have a companion in arms, so to speak, Tom Watson is a five-time winner, still walking around winning, too, I believe. So, no, I have no worry about that. I'd be very proud to be linked with his name as three in a row. In effect it's lousy to be overlooked. It sort of came up this year, hey, you won three in a row, I forgot. I'm serious about that, I think there's nobody inside yet that can beat Tiger when he's playing his best. Now, the only thing he's got against him this year is the weather. Just like the weather gets him at Muirfield in 2002, when he had the afternoon rain and next morning, the afternoon as well, and he and Monty got washed out of the championship. It could happen. It could happen again. The weather is very unsettling. I think there might be a big advantage at one side of the draw or one side of the day. So if he gets hit with that he'll lose. Given normal luck with the weather I can't see anybody beating him.

Q. Do you regard Tiger as the best player of all time?
PETER THOMSON: Oh, it's hard to say. I mean we spoke about the clubs that Hogan used. We're thinking about the ones that Sam Snead had when he won in 1946. They wouldn't have been very good implements, I wouldn't say. It's hard, very difficult to imagine what Snead would have done with a good set of clubs. He was a machine how he played and effortlessly. With these modern clubs he would have been more so. He would have been awesome, I think.

Q. Would he do better than Jack, for instance?
PETER THOMSON: I think so. It's a question one has asked someone like me who has played for 50 years about the best of all time, but having played with them all, except Tiger, though I've watched him enough, I think Sam gets the go for me. Won 120 tournaments. Pretty good record.

Q. When you look at the depth of the talent nowadays, would you say it's a harder Open to win now than it was in your day or the opposite?
PETER THOMSON: Well, it was easier to win in my day because there wasn't a target, for one thing. But it's -- in comparison -- it's a comparison very difficult to make. I have no idea how I would score then if I had the clubs now and the balls now. But there was, I think, quality in the fields in those times but not the quantity. Since most of the professionals, I suppose 80 percent of the professionals who played in The Open in 1953 would have been club professionals. In fact Sam -- Hogan always had a golf club, he had a job out in Palm Springs. So those fellows would have divided their time between looking after members and looking after themselves. But just a small number, actually, devoted their entire time to playing seriously well. That's why it was a bit easy.

Q. Was Carnoustie always, as people have said, the toughest of these British Open courses and if so, why?
PETER THOMSON: I wonder about it being the toughest. I think -- my own experience is that Lytham has got a certain difficulty that not many people can pull over. But this is got the marshy finish here that is scary. You don't find water in the final hole of any other course on the roster. So that's something. I should praise the place, because you're looking at the president of the James Braid Society. This was one of Jimmy Braid's most famous creations. He got a hold of it after it was 40 or 50 years old. But he stuck all these bunkers in the middle of fairways, which must have been astonishment in his time. Because before that most bunkering was done off side. If you hit a slice you got a bunker or a hook you found a bunker. But if you went straight you didn't find bunkers. But here they came to Carnoustie and there were bunkers right in the middle of the damn fairways with you want to do. He was an architect and designed more than 250 courses. He knew how the top player went about things, because he was a top player, himself. And the arrangement of his bunkers here at this place was right out of his experiences as a player. You couldn't say that about any other place. I think that's where it gets it. But there are other things difficult around here. One is getting here. And the other thing in my time it was very difficult to get a room. We stayed in the Station Hotel up the road there somewhere, north of here. And of course 1:00 London express used to come through and the whole place would rattle, like that. I was in the hotel with my wife and somebody else from Australia, but there was a man called Jean Ado, he was a Frenchman. And he's a big strong fellow, he could drive a long way, he had that preparation. Henry Cotton sent him here to play in the championship. And he couldn't find any place -- any room to stay in. So Roberto DiVincenzo, who had also been put in the Station Hotel took Jean Ado took him into the room to sleep. Any, it wasn't an en suite arrangement, because you had to get up at night and go down the corridor. So I had to get up in the night to go down the corridor, and I stepped out of the room and here is a body with his back to the wall and his head down and his feet stretched out in the corridor, stark naked. I looked and it was Jean Ado. And he'd gone out of the room and unfortunately the latch must have locked the room because he couldn't get in again without waking Roberto. Because Roberto had done him such a favor for allowing him to sleep in the room he decided to wait until dawn.
But I quote that as just an example of what we had to contend with when we came here to play, because the accommodation really wasn't available. And that's why the championship didn't come here for what was it 30 years? Because that was one of the difficulties. But truthfully speaking, that discomfort kind of put you off -- I think a lot of the feelings about the course spilled out of the fact that you weren't comfortable living around here. The players of today are really spoiled and they've got to know it.

Q. What would your journey be from Australia to here when you would play?
PETER THOMSON: In 1953 it would be at least two days. The first year it was three days to get here. That's if the engines kept going. I came the furthest of all the players. You can't come further than Australia or Melbourne.
STEWART McDOUGALL: Thank you very much for your time.

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