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THE DIGGER FINISHED ON TOP
Henry Longhurst
July 14, 1958
Australia's Peter Thomson won his fourth British Open title on a course too easy for its own good
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July 14, 1958

The Digger Finished On Top

Australia's Peter Thomson won his fourth British Open title on a course too easy for its own good

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LEADING SCORES AT THE BRITISH OPEN

PETER THOMSON, AUSTRALIA

66

72

67

73

278*

DAVID THOMAS, WALES

70

68

69

71

278

CHRISTY O'CONNOR, IRELAND

67

68

73

71

279

ERIC BROWN, SCOTLAND

73

70

65

71

279

FLORY VAN DONCK, BELGIUM

70

70

67

74

281

LEOPOLDO RUIZ, ARGENTINA

71

65

72

73

281

GARY PLAYER, SOUTH AFRICA

68

74

70

71

283

ERIC LESTER, ENGLAND

73

66

71

74

284

HARRY WEETMAN, ENGLAND

73

67

73

71

284

HENRY COTTON, ENGLAND

68

75

69

72

284

* Thomson won playoff from Thomas 68, 71=139 to 69, 74=143

The British Open golf championship resulted in a triumph for the Australian Peter Thomson, the emergence of a burly 23-year-old Welshman, David Thomas, as our most hopeful international prospect for years, and the complete massacre of one of Britain's most venerated championship courses: Royal Lytham and St. Anne's. The tie between Thomson and Thomas was only the ninth since the Open was first played in 1860.

The championship is played on a strict rota of links, all of them beside the sea, and Lytham, on the coast of Lancashire, near England's " Atlantic City," Blackpool, depends more than most upon its seaside characteristics of close-cropped fairways, fast running greens—and wind. Last week nature robbed it of all of them. Constant rain had turned the fairways into green pastures. The greens could be pitched upon from any angle, thus destroying the strategic value of most of the 360 bunkers, and, as for the wind, it never raised enough strength to rustle the flags on their sticks. Given "target golf" of this order, the best modern professionals can reduce the finest course in the world to a mere question of whether or not you hole your putt for a birdie. The tying total of 278 beat the previous record by a stroke, and for the seven rounds that he played at Lytham, including two in the playoff and one qualifying—the other was played on a neighboring course—Thomson had the almost indecent total of 24 under fours. However, if Lytham could be said to have presented an inadequate scholarship examination in golf, at least there is no doubt that the best scholar finished at the top of the class.

To the true lover of golf this limited rota of courses has one undoubted advantage, the accumulation with the years of a historical and sometimes almost romantic background. At the right to left dogleg 17th young Thomas in the first playoff round hooked his drive. As he walked forward through the bushes and sand hills to survey his 170-yard cross-country shot to the green one could see another young man, as though it were yesterday, facing precisely the same problem with the same thoughts running through his mind nine years before Thomas was born. This was what happened to Bobby Jones—he has never been Bob to us in England—when he was partnered with Al Watrous, the two of them level with two holes to play and the Open of 1926 lying between them. In the bunker a few yards from Thomas' ball one could see the little "tombstone" which commemorates the shot with which Jones virtually won the championship, and in the clubhouse there hangs the hickory-shafted mashie iron with which he played it.

After the much regretted scratchings of Ken Venturi and Cary Middlecoff, we were left with 11 American entrants, two of whom took 88 and 87 in the first qualifying round and shall remain anonymous. Three servicemen (Monte M. Bradley of Hillsboro, Texas, Charles T. Jennings of Med-ford, N.J. and Ed Kotlarczyk of Holland, Ohio) came over from Woodlawn, Germany, and Bradley qualified. Of the name players only Stranahan and Sarazen were left. In the course of the weight-lifting act by which he trains for golf, Stranahan unhappily strained a back muscle on the eve of play. He was granted a two-hour postponement for treatment and injections at the local hospital, and they kept him going for a 68 at Lytham. But next day serious golf was almost out of the question, and an 81 saw him, to the general regret, fail to qualify.

Sarazen, on the other hand, put up a magnificent show. He was U.S. Open champion when he first came here in 1923 and failed to qualify. It was the bitterest golfing pill he ever had to swallow, and he endeared himself to people on this side by at once declaring that he would come back even if he had to swim the Atlantic to do it. During that visit he told me he had played in a tournament on this same course at Lytham with none other than Harry Vardon. Now, 35 years later, he marched briskly round for a qualifying 68 and his four rounds of 73, 73, 70, 72 gave him 288, only one above the last winning total at Lytham. He was given a great hand.

In the first round Thomson's 66 led from Christy O'Connor of Killarney's 67 and Gary Player, Max Faulkner and that other great veteran, Henry Cotton, all at 68. At the halfway stage O'Connor moved to the top with 135, Thomas and Thomson were joined at 138, but between these at 136 there slipped this hitherto unknown figure of Leopoldo Ruiz, champion of the Argentine. An even mightier hitter than his compatriot De Vicenzo, Ruiz had recently completed one tournament round at Wentworth, taking an iron from every tee except one and having nothing bigger than a No. 6 for his second. At Lytham it transpired that he had gone out in 30—with a 6 in it. His figures were 2, 4, 3, 4, 2, 4, 6, 3, 2.

After three rounds it was Thomson 205, Thomas and Van Donck 207, O'Connor, Ruiz and Eric Brown 208. Brown's 65 included the last nine in 30—six 3s and three 4s. Having once done the first nine at St. Andrews in 30, he must be the only man who has done each nine in this ludicrous figure in an Open championship. Coming in first of the possible winners, Brown was left unknowing and unsuspecting with a 4 to win and a drive and a pitch with which to do it. Bunkered from the tee, he was nicely on in 3. He made a bold bid with the first putt, missed the one back and, a few minutes later, on discovering the mournful truth that even a 5 would have tied, was heard muttering, "I could make good use of a bloody razor." The rest was climax followed by complete anticlimax. O'Connor and Ruiz, playing together last, were not, it seemed, going to make it, and all lay between Thomas and Thomson just in front. In tense silence Thomas holed his 30-inch putt to tie, and one of those who watched him was the walkie-talkie operator, who should have been on the 17th reporting on the last pair.

The misleading report was that both had a 2 to tie. (Once again thoughts went back, this time to Hagen, who with a 2 to tie on this very hole sent an official all the way up to the flag—and then hit his ball into a sand trap behind the green.) With no one paying too much attention, Ruiz drove into a bunker, stayed there a while and took 7, while O'Connor also bunkered, then missed from 15 feet for a 5. Then it transpired that each of them had needed only a 4 to tie.

In the replay Thomson shot away, six under fours after 14 holes, but Thomas hung on to finish in 69 against 68—two magnificent rounds. For 27 holes Dave held on, but a 3 against a 5 at the 28th settled it, and Thomson won by four shots. In his last seven British Open championship starts he has accumulated, at the age of 28, four wins and three seconds. He took Thomas under his wing three years ago, and the two have traveled tens of thousands of miles together, Thomas deliberately using his private resources to subject himself to the rigors of the American circuit rather than the common run of tournaments at home. Here is a young man who is determined to go places, and who, in my opinion, will.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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