A few days prior to the start of the UBS Hong Kong Open, I made my way to Shek O Country Club with what I thought was a pretty straightforward assignment: grab a quick interview with Thomson over lunch and then go out and follow him for a few holes as he tackled the picturesque course in the company of old friend and club captain Jim Mailer, Shek O general manager Paul Brown and Iain Roberts, Head Professional at The Hong Kong Golf Club. It’ll make a nice little story, we at HK Golfer thought. Have a chat with one of the game’s true greats, check out his play, and maybe get him to sign a couple of past issues of the magazine for posterity. Nice.
But on being introduced to Thomson, a triple Hong Kong Open winner who was in town as a guest of the championship sponsors to help mark the event’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Mailer had news. “Iain Roberts can’t make it today, he’s tied up at Fanling,” he explained. “Alex, would you like to join us?”
It was like handing over the keys of an Aston Martin DB9 to a 15-year-old kid and asking if he fancied taking it out for a spin. “Yes, very much, thank you,” I replied, trying to keep a Joker-like grin from forming at my lips. I didn’t have my own clubs with me and wasn’t dressed for golf but that was beside the point. I was going to play with the greatest Australian golfer in history — I didn’t need custom-fit sticks and a pair of softspikes to enjoy the occasion. A set of 10-year-old ultra-whippy graphite-shafted rental clubs and street shoes would more than suffice.
Thomson, who turns 80 in August, rarely plays these days. Busy with his flourishing course design company, whose portfolio includes the Eden Course at Fanling and the much more recent Clearwater Bay renovation, he claims to tee it up only once a month on average. “It’s my hands,” he explains. “As I’ve gotten older I’ve lost a lost of the feel. It’s hard work now.”
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