Because he won five Open Championships, had one of the most dominating Champions Tour seasons ever in 1985 with nine wins, and won globally in a World Golf Hall of Fame career, it’s easy to assume Peter Thomson was a big winner on the PGA Tour as well.
But Thomson, who will be 87 in August (only a couple weeks older than Arnold Palmer) had just one tour victory on American soil. It took place 60 years ago at the Texas International Open, now known as the AT&T Byron Nelson, one of more than a dozen names the tour event being played this week has had since it started in 1944 as the Texas Victory Open, won by Nelson himself.
Winning in Texas was apropos for Thomson, an Australian with straight ball control of his driver and iron shots and a low ball flight, a good combo in normal Texas conditions. He won at Preston Hollow C.C. in 1956, the triumph having all the accoutrements for a memorable victory. First-round play Thursday was washed out by thunderstorms, so the finish was pushed back to Monday, June 4. Thomson shot 63 in the final round to tie third-round leader Gene Littler and Cary Middlecoff, two fellow Hall of Famers. All three birdied the first playoff hole, and Thomson birdied the second with a 12-foot putt to win following Littler’s miss from 10 feet. The rest of the field wasn’t too shabby, either, with these HOF players: Roberto De Vicenzo, Tommy Bolt, Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Billy Casper, Doug Ford, Jack Burke Jr., Lloyd Mangrum, Lawson Little and Palmer.
A man of letters with interests in art and classical music, Thomson was a top quality chemist early in life and was so strong politically that he ran for the Australian Parliament in 1982. In his prime, Thomson the golfer was one of the game’s great world thinkers and thought “big picture.”
His first visits to America, however, brought mixed feelings, he told Golf Digest in 1994. He enjoyed the friendly people, steaks, luxury cars and comfortable hotels, but was shocked by how “everything cost about twice what it cost in Australia.” He also found that golf was played on usually wet and not closely manicured courses. “The tour itself played on a lot of really poor, second-class layouts,” he said as opposed to what Britain offered with Sunningdale, Wentworth, Walton Heath, Birkdale, Prestwick and the Old Course.
Part of the reason he didn’t win more on the U.S. tour is because he didn’t spend an entire season here, often leaving at the end of July to go back to Australia. “I’d play in one or two events for the rest of the year,” he told Golf Digest. “I always took about three months off.”
When asked what he would do with that time, he said, “I’d live like a normal human being.”