In a true Open for the ages there can only be one winner, and he’s an understated gent from Brunswick in Melbourne.
On Sunday night Fox Sports will broadcast “The Open For The Ages”, a joint initiative between the R&A and Sky Sports UK that has collated more than 300 pieces of archive footage from past Championships at St Andrews dating back to 1970 to determine golf’s ultimate Open champion at the game’s spiritual home.
Only two Australians have ever won The Open across the Old Course of St Andrews but it is Peter Thomson’s record both in the championship and at the course that would provide the blueprint to his own design philosophy that makes his case compelling.
Given that the R&A have only gone back as far as 50 years to the 1970 Open Championship – where at 40 years of age Thomson finished tied for ninth as Jack Nicklaus claimed his second consecutive Open at St Andrews – Thomson may not feature heavily in the broadcast but his record is unlikely to ever be equalled.
From the time he finished runner-up to South African great Bobby Locke in the 1952 championship at Royal Lytham, Thomson didn’t finish worse than second in seven consecutive Opens.
He won three in succession from 1954 – including the 1955 championship at St Andrews – was second again in 1957 at St Andrews and won his fourth Open in the space of five years at Lytham in 1958.
When great friend Kel Nagle triumphed over Arnold Palmer at the Old Course in 1960 Thomson was eight strokes back in a tie for ninth before claiming his fifth Open title at Royal Birkdale in 1965, second only to Harry Vardon for the most wins in golf’s oldest and most revered championship.
In 1978 at 48 years of age Thomson again showed his affinity for St Andrews when he finished tied for 24th and his final appearance at the championship came fittingly at the Old Course in 1984.
“I never got the chance to meet Peter Thomson but obviously I know his record,” said Marcus Fraser, an Open participant on six occasions and a contender in the final round at St Andrews in 2015.
“When you think about it it’s pretty amazing.
“To win five of them and be runner-up in three others is just crazy.
“I don’t care what era it is, that was the best players anywhere in the world at that time.
“It’s just amazing. It’s perhaps the most impressive record of anyone.”
Such was the reverence that Thomson was held by anyone who played The Open, Aussies would clamour for the chance to play a practice round with the five-time champion and pick his brain for any morsel of knowledge he cared to share.
The likes of Bruce Devlin, David Graham and Rodger Davis all benefited from spending some of their preparation in Thomson’s presence, his grace and confident ease conveying god-like status on the British links.
In the 50-year span that ‘The Open For the Ages’ covers we witnessed three Australian victories – Greg Norman’s triumphs at Muirfield in 1986 and Royal St George’s in 1993 along with Ian Baker-Finch’s brilliant weekend to win at Birkdale in 1991.
Norman and Baker-Finch both finished top-10 in the 1984 and 1990 Opens at St Andrews but the closest an Aussie has come to winning at the Old Course since Nagle did so in 1960 was Marc Leishman in 2015, the Victorian finishing tied at the top with Zach Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen before falling short in the four-hole aggregate playoff.
In order to create a sense of authenticity to the broadcast hundreds of digital corrections have been made to clips including the removal of caddies and playing partners from original footage and the introduction and removal of golf balls on greens to ensure that the viewer feels what they are watching is actually happening.
The winner of The Open For The Ages has been determined by a fan vote, which registered more than 10,000 responses, and a data model developed in partnership with NTT DATA that utilises this fan vote along with player career statistics and historical data from The Open to calculate the Champion.
• “The Open For The Ages” will be shown from 8pm on Sunday night on Fox Sports 503.