Tributes to Peter Thomson, the five-time Open champion who passed away at home in Melbourne at the age of 88, included warm praise for the Australian legend from the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year.
“I saw some pictures through the years this morning of him with the Claret Jug after he had won, and also some highlights of his, and he looked like somebody who was so proud of the Open Championship, somebody who singled that tournament out as a specialty, and his game certainly showed that,” said Jordan Spieth.
Thomson recorded his first Claret Jug success at Royal Birkdale in 1954 and made successful defences the next two years at St Andrews and Royal Liverpool. The only golfer of the 20th century to win the events three years in a row, he then regained the title in 1958 at Royal Lytham before claiming his fifth and final success back at Royal Birkdale in 1965.
“I remember seeing one picture where he was hugging the Claret Jug so close to his face with a smile of just like pure joy,” added Spieth, speaking during a teleconference in the build up to his title defence at Carnoustie next month. “You don’t see that now, even in major championships.
“But you could see how much that meant to him. You could see how much that tournament meant to him. Certainly one of the, if not the most, masterful links players to play the game. I’m obviously very deeply saddened by his passing. But what a legacy he left.”
Thomson, the first Australian to win golf’s oldest major, had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for more than four years. His many accolades included being made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf in 1979 while he was awarded an honorary degree from St Andrews University in 2005 alongside Peter Alliss and Nick Faldo.
“It is with great sadness that we have awoken to the news of the passing of Peter Thomson,” said Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A.
“Peter was a true gentleman and will be forever remembered throughout the world of golf as one of the great champions of our wonderful sport.
“He was a distinguished Honorary Member of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and will be sorely missed by all of us at the R&A.
“Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf.
“Our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time. Our deepest condolences go out to Peter’s wife, Mary, and his four children, Diana, Peta-Ann, Fiona and Andrew.”
Thomson’s tally in the Open Championship was matched only by James Braid and Tom Watson in the 20th century, with the all-time record for the event being held by Harry Vardon, who registered six victories between 1896 and 1914.
Paying tribute on social media, Thomson’s compatriot and 1991 Open champion, Ian Baker-Finch, tweeted: “Australia has lost a golfing legend and my hero. Peter – my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence & valuable guidance over the years.”
Another Australian, former women’s world No 1 Karrie Webb, said he was an “Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game” while two-time Claret Jug winner Ernie Els commented: “Golf has lost a true legend and one of sport’s real gentlemen.”
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, wrote on Twitter: “Very sad to hear of the passing of Mr Peter Thomson, 5 X champion golfer of the year but more importantly a true gentleman of the game.”
Thomson was heavily involved in golf course design around the world, working on over 250 projects in 30 countries. His creations included The Duke’s Course on the outskirts of St Andrews. “Had the pleasure of working with him up at The Duke’s Course on several occasions,” wrote former Ryder Cup player Andrew Coltart.