Australia’s Greatest Golfer: Peter Thomson v Jason Day

They exist on either end of the professional golf spectrum yet share a common trait of using golf as a means of escape.

Peter Thomson, the cultured intellectual who crafted artistry with hickory and balata, saw golf as little more than a pastime, a conduit to indulging in his true passions of classical music, literature, art and opera.

Golf provided an escape too to Jason Day but with rather more desperate undertones.

Raised in Beaudesert west of the Gold Coast, Day was introduced to the game by his father and a 3-wood rescued from the local rubbish tip.

In recent years Day has described his father as a “violent alcoholic” and he passed when Day was just 12 years of age.

Life at that point offered the talented but tempestuous pre-teen with two alternatives, his mother Dening’s decision to send him to the acclaimed Hills International golf school leading toward a more productive path.

In his early days at Hills the rebellious side of Day would occasionally emerge yet with the careful guidance of coach Colin Swatton he was feted as one of the best junior golfers on the planet by the time he reached Year 12.

Day saw opportunity in golf not only to rise to a status of No.1 in the world but to cultivate a family environment with wife Ellie that was far less harsh than that which he endured.

As their motivations were vastly different, so too were their approaches to the game.

Thomson hit only as many balls on the range as was necessary to understand his swing for that particular day, bending golf courses to his will with a gentle grace that belied its expert execution.

“His game is based on touch, instinct and improvisation, and he revels in the challenge of running up approaches to the hard greens on the fast links of Britain,” author Terry Smith wrote in The Complete Book of Australian Golf.

Day, born when Thomson was 58 years of age, is a product of the modern game, where launch monitors, swing vision and statistics are the measures of a golfer’s development.

It is why Steve Williams – who began his career as a caddie by carrying Thomson’s bag in the 1976 New Zealand Open – struggled in a short-lived stint working with Day in 2019.

“I would openly describe him as a modern player,” Williams says of Day in the July issue of Australian Golf Digest. “He uses a lot of technology, relies on technology, whereas I am, no question, an old-school caddie.

“I caddied by eyesight and by feel. Given all the technology that is available today, it was very difficult to come back and caddie in this era.”

As we pit their records on the golf course against each other in our continuing search for Australia’s Greatest Golfer, their differences once again make comparisons problematic.

With five British Open championships and 95 wins across the globe – including 44 on the Australasian Tour – Thomson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988 regarded as one of the finest exponent of links golf to ever live.

Where Thomson somewhat shunned it, Day has spent virtually his entire career in the United States. Among his 12 PGA TOUR titles are the 2015 US PGA Championship and 2016 THE PLAYERS Championship, wins that make him Hall of Fame eligible once he celebrates his 45th birthday in 2032.

They are polar opposites yet share a place in the annals of Australian golf as two of our most accomplished players of all time.

Peter Thomson                                                                            
Career wins: 95                                                                            
Major wins: 5 (British Open 1954-56, 1958, 1965)
PGA TOUR wins: 1           
Australasian Tour wins: 44                                                        
Australian Open: Won (1951, 1967, 1972)                             
Australian PGA:  Won (1967)                       

Jason Day
Career wins: 17
Major wins: 1 (2015 US PGA Championship)
PGA TOUR wins: 12
Australian Open: T4 (2011)
Australian PGA: T9 (2011)

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