By Michael Davis

THE zero tolerance policy on racism recently formalised by the game’s governing bodies in Australia is both welcome and long overdue.

It reminded me of a tale about the late Peter Thomson and inclusiveness which tells you more about the man than any of his five victories in The Open Championship.

It concerns the former champion Carlton premiership player, Syd Jackson, one of the first aboriginal footballers to play in the VFL (now AFL) in the 1960s and ’70s.

Thomson grew up in West Brunswick, just a seven-iron from Carlton’s home ground at Princes Park. He loved the Blues.

Thommo was already a champion golfer on the world stage by the time Syd Jackson arrived at Carlton but was still an avid fan of Australian football and went to as many games as possible. 

Incidentally, Thommo himself could have played league football and maybe even Test cricket. His former headmaster at Brunswick Tech, in working-class Melbourne, said young Thomson was the best footballer and cricketer to come through the school. 

And there were plenty of ‘Brunnie’ Tech boys who went on to carve out big careers in both sports at the elite level.

But we digress. 

Syd Jackson and Thomson became friends and Thommo invited him for a game of golf at Royal Melbourne. 

Jackson still remembers it with great affection all these years later. 

“Imagine that? A black man on the first tee at Royal Melbourne,” he said.

We cannot be sure, but we suspect it might have been a first.

Jackson knew it was a powerful statement by The Open champion all those years ago and told a few of us about it at Thomson’s 80th birthday celebration. 

A black man on the first tee at Royal Melbourne … I doubt if there were many RM members 50-odd years ago who would not have choked on their gin and tonics beside the clubhouse fireplace at the very thought of it.

I cannot pretend to have known Thomson intimately.

But he turned his hand to writing about the game and he did it as smoothly and as efficiently as he played. Every time I read one of his pieces I was blown away by the simplicity and beauty of it.

Thommo loved spending time with the ‘bent pennies’ who filled the press tents at tournaments and was only too happy to provide you with an illuminating quote about the day’s play or a particular player. It was always pithy and to the point.  

He once told me you only had to play four holes with someone to know exactly what type of person they are off the course. He was certainly right on that one!

I have always loved Peter Thomson’s story. 

He only wandered onto Royal Park public golf course near his home by chance. His uncle had taken him there accompanied by a greyhound and ‘something furry’ in a hessian bag.

They stood beside one another on the second tee. When his uncle signalled, the young Thomson released what turned out to be a live rabbit from the hessian bag. The greyhound took off and it would be indelicate to mention here what happened to the ‘bunny.’

Meanwhile, Thomson used to say, “I looked around and saw a few golfers on the course and thought I would come back soon and give golf a go.”

The rest is history. 

When I came to know Thomson better, he turned out to be a totally different person from the one I had perceived from afar. 

At the time, my older relatives, who had grown up huge Thomson fans would tug my coat and say, ‘What’s Thommo like?’ They smiled knowingly when I said he was a “good bloke”.

They were pleased to know the legend they had grown up idolising was not a dud in real life. 

Unfortunately, after far too many years covering all sports, this is not always the case with many of our heroes.

But it certainly wasn’t the case with the great Peter Thomson.

FOOTNOTE: My one regret concerning Peter Thomson is that I failed to take advantage of a casual remark he made in the media centre on the eve of an Open Championship at St Andrews. “I think 80/1 is very good odds about (American) John Daly. He is a chance to win.”

Daly duly saluted and guess who did not take advantage of the sage advice offered by Thomson?

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