Sixty years since his British Open triumph at St Andrews, Australia’s most successful men’s golfer is still wowing the Scottish crowds at the Old Course.
The now 85-year-old and five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson captained a team of former champions to a three-under score in a four-hole exhibition challenge, only missing out on the STG100,000 ($A210,000) pound prize for charity because Arnold Palmers team was older, the method of count back.
With Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Ben Curtis under his wing, Thomson inspired his younger fellow champions to the lead, a place they held until the final putt of the mini tournament on Wednesday.
But it wasn’t about the money.
This was about revering the old, and new, champions of the world’s oldest major championship.
Thomson, who won in 1954-56, 1958 and 1965, made his way to the first tee and had the crowds in stitches as he cracked jokes with the emcee and then wasted no time in belting his driver down the fairway.
“The memories are never far away,” Thomson said.
“It’s almost a home for me here.”
As he walked down the opening fairway, the large crowds rose in applause and he duly bowed, as South African Els wasted no time in becoming his shadow.
“He was one of my heroes,” Els said.
“He was obviously before my time but a lot of the golf clubs in South Africa have him and Bobby Locke up all around the place and he’s just an icon of the game.
“He’s very witty, has a great Aussie sense of humour and I mentioned to him on the 18th that I really appreciate everything he has done for the game and what a great champion he is.”
Mickelson was also pleased with his captain.
“Here’s a man who won it many decades ago and they are celebrating him decades later and to be a part of that history of the game is very special,” Mickelson said.
“Peter is a class act, a class individual and it was fun to be on his team.”
When asked for a winner in this year’s Open, Thomson played the patriotic card.
“I’ve been wanting Adam Scott to win it for several years now and he hasn’t pulled it off yet but I think he’s the strongest player we’ve got and I think it might be this year,” he said.
“There’s no obstacle for him. He can win. He hits as far as any of them and as accurately too.”
Elsewhere in the challenge, Tiger Woods, off in the opening team of the best-ball challenge, said he wouldn’t miss it for anything as his team were the first in at three-under.
Australian Ian Baker-Finch admitted to nerves on the first tee where he once famously hit a wild shot out of bounds way left but striped just about every shot, perhaps inspiring the 1991 champion to once again take up the chance to play the tournament proper in coming years.
“What a great event. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure how I’d play but I was really happy. I hit it perfect,” Baker-Finch said.
“This challenge is great for golf and it is what the home of golf is all about and I hope they continue to do it every time they are here at St Andrews.
“It gives me a lift and the juices are flowing to maybe play in the tournament proper again.
“Maybe at Royal Birkdale again in 2017 or back here in 2020 when I’m 60.”