James Wilfred Stevenson Thomson
Born: 29th Oct. 1908, North Berwick
Died: June 1985, Miami, Florida
12th Glen Course, North
© Digitalsport UK
14th West Links, North Berwick
© Digitalsport UK
Virginia State Open :1927
Melbourne Centenary Open :1934
Santa Monica Open
Sunset Field Open, Los Angeles :1934
U.S. Open runner-up :1935
Richmond Open :1936
U.S. PGA runner-up :1936
Canadian Open runner-up :1936
Miama-Biltmore Open runner-up :1937
Los Angeles Open :1938
PGA Northern Trust Open :1938
Maryland Open :1938
Gullane Main Street and No.1 Course
© Digitalsport UK
" Fore Please...... |
Jimmy Thomson now Driving "
North Berwick Factfile
JIMMY THOMSON was born 29th October 1908 at 5, Church Road, North Berwick, son of
Wilfred Thomson, assistant greenkeeper and his wife Mary White. Jimmy was born into a golfing dynasty, his uncles were Ben Sayers,
Davie Grant and Jack White who won the 1904 Open Championship. Jimmy attended the public school in North Berwick and was a choir boy
in the Episcopalian Church.
In 1921 his father Wilfred was appointed pro at The Country Club of Virginia. The following year Jimmy aged 12years sailed to the
USA with his mother and sister Emily. Jimmy Thomson attended John Marshall High in Richmond for six years and grew up to be a stocky,
broad-shouldered blond and one of the more popular players on what was to become the US. Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour.
He often reminisced about his father who was a great believer in balance, he believed the quieter you stand and the faster you use
your hands, the better you'll hit it. When I was 13 or 14 years old I began with a 9 iron and stood very quiet with my feet
together, I was able to work up enough hand speed to get normal distance with the club. When I was 16 or 17 I got so I could hit a
drive 225 yards with my feet together.
In June 1925 it was noted in the Virginia Richmond Times Dispatch that Jimmy Thomson had qualified for the national open golf
championship at Worcester, Mass. He is said to be the youngest contestant ever to qualify for the national open at his first
attempt, being only 16 years of age.
The Long Beach correspondent of the New York Times says of young Thomson,'...... One of the future greats to be unearthed during
the playing of the qualifying rounds of the championship at the Lido Country Club is James Thomson. Young Thomson turned in 78
and 79 for a total of 157, which stamps him as a worthy successor to the Hagens and Smiths of today......
At the 1926 U.S. Open played at the Scioto Country Club in Columbus Ohio, Jimmy finished in 16th place. He started with 77, then
had a disastrous round of 83, followed with two fine rounds of 73 and 74. The calibre of the seventeen year old's golf may be
better understood and appreciated when it is noted that during the entire tournament only fourteen rounds were scored better than
Jimmy returned to Scotland in April 1929 to play in the Open Championship at Muirfield, and finished in 13th place. At the Open he
drove the 375 yard 11th hole, his ball rolled between Ed Dudley's legs while he was putting on the green.
In an interview in the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 7th 1937, Jimmy reminisced about the early days. "I was born at North Berwick son
of Wilfred Thomson who has been a pro since he was 17. One of my mother's brothers was Jack White the international club maker whose
woods were as famous in America, as they were on the other side. Uncle Jack won the British Open in 1904 and was the first player to
break 300 in that tournament.
My first experience of golf was as a member of the North Berwick Episcopalian Church choir. We were rewarded with a trip each year
and on one of those when I was 9, I won a nine-hole tournament with a 56. The prize was a driver as big as myself.
I'll never forget my first big caddie job. I toted clubs for Willie Hunter in the British Amateur Championship at Muirfield in 1920.
Willie was put out in the quarter-finals that year, but he won the title the next year at Hoylake. Funny thing I met Willie ten years
later in the first round of the San Francisco Match-Play Open and I beat him on the 20th hole.
I lived in Richmond for six years working in my dad's shop after school hours. I spent all the time possible learning the shop and
club making end of the game. I attended the John Marshall High in Richmond and took time off to go to the National Open qualifying
round at Lido NY in 1925. This was the first time I had been away from home alone. It was a great experience seeing Diegel, Hagen,
Sarazen and Macfarlane.
I did not make the grade for the final thirty-six holes in the tournament itself at Worcester but I felt I had learned a lot playing
the thirty-six holes with Bob McDonald. Two years before I returned with my family to North Berwick but
did not get to see my uncle Jack. He was the pro at Sunningdale which was famed as the Duke of Windsor's favourite course.
| Jimmy Thomson played in nine Augusta Masters and in 1947 he started introducing
the players to the gallery on the 9th hole while his good friend Ralph Hutchison began announcing on the 18th.
My first PGA event was in 1928, I led the qualifiers at Washington but did not qualify in the tournament proper. I played the winter
circuit that year through the southeast and while I didn't connect for any money I gained a lot of experience. I'm only sorry that I
did not engage earlier and more actively in tournament golf."|
In 1929, Twenty-year-old Thomson returned to Scotland to play in the Open Championship at Muirfield. His uncle Jack White had a
clubmakers business in the village of Gullane and suggested that Jimmy should throw away the clubs he brought from America and
Jack offered to replaced them with a brand new set he had made himself. White also arranged for Jimmy to play a couple of practice
rounds with the legendary Sandy Herd. Jimmy Thomson finished just outside the top ten at Muirfield and would returned to play in the
Open Championship in 1948.
Jimmy was the John Daly of the 1930s, everywhere he played, fans flocked to see his booming tee shots. In 1929 he entered the US Open
from Knoxville where his father was the pro at Holston Hills Country Club in Tennessee.
In 1937, Jimmy won the North American long-driving contest at Fonthill on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. To quote his own
reported words " Everybody hit 20 drives, they averaged the ten best, my average was 316 yards and my best 386 " An American
journalist said of him, he was to golf what Babe Ruth was to baseball. "I concentrated on driving to the exclusion of everything
else when I was a kid, Thomson once said.
I learned to hit the ball with all my might from the minute I first began to swing a club. Naturally that worked to the detriment
of my short game. I got too much kick out of out driving everybody to worry about the finer shots around the green."
In 1934, the Australian PGA persuaded a number of outstanding golfers to play in the £3,000 Centenary Open at Melbourne. They
included Joe Kirkwood, Leo Diegel, Mac Smith, Gene Sarazen and Denny Shute. Jimmy Thomson won the event with a total of 283, and
Sarazen commented "I have seen Jimmy paste the ball greater distances than he did Down Under, but on no occasion back home have I
seen him produce an over-all game of equal brilliance."
Thomson appreciated the first prize money of a £1,000 as he had to pay his own expenses to Australia as he was not attached
to the American PGA team. He also did not know if he was eligible to play in the tournament as his entry was accepted only at the
last minute by Victoria Golf Association. To finish off a crazy week, his putter was banned as it did not conform to the regulations.
Jimmy Thomson went on to won the Santa Monica Open in 1934 at Clover Field Country Club after a play-off with Ralph Guldahi. He
also won the Sunset Field Open at Los Angeles. He won the $3,000 Richmond Open in 1936, and was runner-up to Lawson Little in the
1936 Canadian Open Championship at Toronto. Jimmy was runner-up in the $2000 Miami-Biltmore Open where he broke the course record
with a 65 over the Corral Gables course in Florida. He broke the course record during the Belmont $12,000 International Matchplay
Open with a 68 and set a tournament record 273 in the Los Angeles Open in 1938. In 1947, Thomson won the Long Driving Contest at
the Bing Crosby Open at Peeble Beach, driving the ball 268 yards which was all carry into a strong breeze.
He regularly played in the Masters Tournament at Augusta and each year there was a warm-up team competition which Jimmy and his partner
Californian Olin Dutra won in 1935. He finished sixth in the Masters in 1937 and eighth the following year. Starting 1947 Jimmy Thomson
began introducing the players to the gallery on the 9th hole while his good friend and Augusta National's first assistant pro Ralph
Hutchison (1932-1935) started announcing on the 18th. Jimmy Thomson, Ralph Hutchison and Bobby Jones were Staff Pro's for A G Spalding
Jimmy Thomson appeared in the movie 'The Caddy' with Jerry Lewis and Dean
Martin. He also featured in 'Shoot Yourself Some Golf' with Ronald Reagan.
In 1936, when the PGA Championship was match play, Jimmy reached the finals at Pinehurst before losing to Denny Shute, 3 and 2. "
Shute was in the trap nine times that day and got up and down every time," Thomson recalled years later. In 1935 at Oakmont,
Thomson finished second to Sam Parks Jr. in the US. Open. Thomson had a two-shot lead after 14 holes in the final round but
bogeyed the last four holes."I hit four good tee shots, too," he moaned later. "But I wound up in two traps and three-putted two
Off the tour, Jimmy worked as a teaching pro at Broadmoor Country Club in Colorado Springs (1930); Los Angeles C.C (1934),
Lakewood Country Club (1935) in Los Angeles where he met and married Viola Dana, a popular silent movie star of the'30s; Shawnee-On-The
Delaware C.C (1936) and Chicopee Falls (1941).
Thomson broke the course record at Ingleside Golf Club with a 64, during the San Francisco Open in 1937. He led the qualifying and
received a medal and $25 prize money. The top sixteen qualified for the 72-hole matchplay, but Thomson was defeated in the
quarterfinals. In 1937, Pine Valley Golf Club, New Jersey, invited a dozen of the leading professionals to team up with a club
member in a 72-hole Invitational Tournament. That year, Sam Snead and Jimmy Thomson, the two longest hitters of the day, were joint
first on 302, a score that was 22 under-par.
Jimmy won his first major USPGA tournament in January 1938 when he won the Los Angeles Open. 'The siege-gun from Shawnee-On-The-Delaware'
as the media described him, set a new tournament record with a 72 hole score 273 which included a final round three-under-par 68.
Thomson lead from start to finish and lifted the $2,100 first prize. In 1938, Jimmy Thomson finished 4th in the Western Open played at
Westwood Country Club, St Louis, Missori.
During the Great Depression, Jimmy Thomson encouraged the fans to play the game and his reputation as the biggest hitter on tour attracted
more public interest and the press called him 'The Big Blaster'. Thomson was one of the Spalding Fourball whose legendary
exhibition tours attracted golfers across the country. The admission to the 18-hole four-ball was free and the fans were also treated
to a clinic. The other affiliated professionals were Horton Smith, Lawson Little, and Harry Cooper. During WW2 Thomson served in the
US Coast Guard and in 1940 was among an elite field of invited pro's, playing in a round-robin tournament at Freshmeadow C.C in New York.
Including Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Jimmy Demaret, Horton Smith and Sam Snead.
Jimmy Thomson never played in the Ryder Cup because the PGA altered the rules in 1931 which stipulated that each player had to be born
in Britain and also resident in Britain. The residency issue was to stop the USA selecting British players based in America.
The Ryder Cup was not played for over ten years due to WW2. In 1947 the event was held at Portland Golf Club, Oregon. The course was
laid out by George Turnbull from North Berwick in 1914. The super-fast and demanding greens were ideal to test the short game skills
of the Ryder Cup teams.
Jimmy returned with Lawson Little to Scotland in 1948 to compete in the Open at Muirfield and on Monday 12th July following the
Open, played an exhibition match over the North Berwick West Links. This time he was joined by Brazilian Mario Gonzalez and the
newly crowned Open champion Henry Cotton.
The spectators had come to see the South American, an amateur at that time playing in his first Open, described as having a
stick-like physique but was noted for the beauty and power of his strike.
That day Jimmy stole the show, driving the 328 yard first green to the crowd's delight, but more was to follow. At the 14th named
' Perfection', a 376 yard par 4, Jimmy holed his second shot to the blind green and Henry Cotton turned to the crowd and said "
Local boy comes good "
In 1953, Jimmy Thomson appeared in the movie 'The Caddy' with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Jimmy also featured in the movie 'Shoot
Yourself Some Golf' with actor Ronald Reagan (1942) and with a number of pro's in 'Swing With Bing', featuring Bing Crosby (1940).
Jimmy also wrote a book called Hit 'em for Miles, How to Drive a Golf Ball which was among the most popular golf instruction books
including How to Play Golf - Sam Snead, Power Golf - Ben Hogan, and Wining Golf - Byron Nelson.
In 1957 Jimmy Thomson was hired to entertain the US troops on a five week exhibition tour of Air Bases in France, Germany, England
and North Africa. In 1960 Thomson was made a life member of the Carolina PGA Section. Although his tournament days were over, Jimmy
was still very much involved in the game, being appointed promotional director for Dunlop in the United States.
In an article in Golf Digest in 2011, senior writer Jaime Diaz complied a list of the five best power hitters in golf history
and he selected Jimmy Thomson as his number one choice.
Wilfred Thomson (1888-1974)
Jimmy Thomson's father James Wilfred Stevenson Thomson was born in North Berwick in 1888. In November
1904 he started an apprenticeship as a greenkeeper on the West Links, North Berwick under Alex Wright. Wilfred was appointed golf
pro at Dunstable Downs (1910-11) then Penn G.C, Wolverhampton (1911-12) before he moved to Hexham in Northumbria in 1912 where he
remained until 1919. He entered the 1911 Open Championship at Sandwich and the 1914 Open at Prestwick. Some fine examples of his club
making survive from this period, stamped with "W. Thomson Special Hexham". Not to be over-shadowed by his brother-in-law Ben Sayers who
taught the nobility, Wilfred tutored the Duke of Alba a member of King Alfonso's court in Spain.
Wilfred sailed to the USA from Southampton on the S.S. Adriatic and arrived in New York on 13th November 1920. His contact on arrival
was John McFee at 166-E-3rd-St, New York. Wilfred travelled to Richmond where he was appointed golf pro at The Country Club of Virginia
(1921-24). The following year he was joined by his wife, daughter Emily and 12 year old son Jimmy. Wilfred moved to the Hermitage
Country Club in Richmond (1925-28), and was invited to become the first pro at Burning Tree in Maryland (1924-26), by Edward
McLean, owner of the Washington Post and founder member of Burning Tree club. Thomson was appointed to Holston Hills, Knoxville in
Tennessee, then, before returning to the Hermitage Country Club. |
The course at the Hermitage Country Club was laid out on both sides of the Hilliard Road in Richmond. It was designed by A.W. Tillinghast
in 1916 and the course contractor was Peter Lees (above) who was well known to Wilfred Thomson. Peter Lees was originally a greenkeeper
at Archerfield and Thomson was greenkeeper at the neighbouring West Links at North Berwick. The original Hermitage course which hosted
the PGA Championship in 1949, is now a public course in Richmond.
Many North Berwick golfers stayed with Wilfred and his family at 3204 Grove Avenue in Richmond while they searched for employment including
James Souter (Tuxedo GC) and Alan Brodie (Hermitage GC). Thomson became an American Citizen on January 3, 1927 at Richmond District Court.
In 1921 Wilfred Thomson joined Jack Forrester and James Ferguson as they travelled north to Washington to enter the US Open at
Columbia Country Club where Fred McLeod's was the professional. That year Thomson wintered in Florida and returned to Richmond in
the spring. In June 1925, this article appeared in the Virginia Richmond Times Dispatch entitled Shattering Records '....Wilfred
Thomson, golf professional at the Hermitage Country Club, successfully attained an objective on his home course that had defied
the best efforts of the great Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and other noted stars, when he carded a 71, on the par 73 course.
Thomson took fifteen putts on the outward nine, and thirteen coming home for a total of 28 putts in the full round'
Columbia laid on a dinner to celebrate Fred McLeod's
50th Anniversary with the club. Among the invited guests was Jimmy Thomson from North Berwick.
Jim Wilson, Park Ridge professional (below) who for five years was President of the Illinios PGA was a schoolmate of Wilfred
Thomson when they grew up in North Berwick. When the Professional Golfers Association of America was established in 1916 the
charter members formed seven regional sections. This became 23 sections and in March 1925, at a meeting in 'Spaldings' Columbia
office, The Middle Atlantic PGA was formed covering Pennsylvania, Delaware through Georgia including West Virginia. The professionals
attending the formation meeting elected Wilfred Thomson on to the three-man organising committee. Fred McLeod was elected the
first President but was unable to attend as he was playing in the Sarasota Open in Florida. In 1927 Wilfred Thomson was elected one
of two Vice-Presidents. In 1926 the MAPGA qualifying for the PGA Championship took place at Congressional when Fred McLeod and
Wilfred Thomson's eighteen-year-old son Jimmy Thomson earned the two spots.
Wilfred Thomson returned to the UK in 1936 and took up the post of private professional to Lord Wimborne at Rugby. On the outbreak
of the Second World War, he joined the Royal Scots regiment, Thomson had also seen active service during the 1914-18 war. After
peace had been declared, he travelled back to America for a short period, and then finally in 1937 he returned to North Berwick,
living at 25 East Road where he died on 9th May 1962.
Wilfy Thomson and Jimmy Black were the last of the traditional golf professionals on the West Links. They continued into the 1950s
giving golf lessons on the strip of land between the third and sixteenth fairways. The lesson was reserved at James Watt's club
makers shop at the foot of Station Hill. He also attended to the east and west putting greens laid out by the Town Council.
Wilfred Thomson died in May 1962, at the age of 74.
| || Hit 'Em A Mile! - Jimmy Thomson
© Douglas C. Seaton 2016 |