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Famous North Berwick Golfers
Willie Anderson    Arnaud Massy    Wilfred Thomson    Ben Sayers    Dorothy Campbell    Fred McLeod

[*]
James Wilfred Stevenson Thomson
Golf Professional
Born: 29th Oct. 1908, North Berwick
Died: June 1985, Miami, Florida

[Jimmy Thomson]
Jimmy Thomson
© Digitalsport UK

[12th on East
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12th Glen Course, North Berwick
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[14th on West
Links]
14th West Links, North Berwick
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Tournament Record
Virginia State Open :1927
Melbourne Centenary Open :1934
Santa Monica Open :1934
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

[18th Gullane No.1]
Gullane Main Street and No.1 Course
© Digitalsport UK

  Fore Please......
Jimmy Thomson now Driving

By Douglas Seaton
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, and Davie Grant and his cousin Jack White won the 1904 Open Championship.

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 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 73.

Jimmy was the John Daly of the 1930s. Everywhere he played, fans flocked to see his booming tee shots. During the 1929 Open at Muirfield, he drove the 375 yard 11th hole. His ball rolled between Ed Dudley's legs while he was putting on the green. Thomson finished in 13th place. That year 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 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.

Thomson went on to win the Santa Monica Open after a play-off with Ralph Guldahl in 1934. 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 Brothers.

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 greens."

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.

For many years Jimmy was a member of the Spalding golf advisory staff at their headquarters in Chicople and was well known throughout Western Massachusetts giving public clinics. He also took part in exhibition matches sponsored by Spalding & Co. across the United States with Harry Cooper and Lawson Little. 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 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. [Jimmy Thomson] 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 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. He was a greenkeeper on the West Links at North Berwick before being appointed golf pro at Dunstable Downs (1910-11). He moved to Penn G.C, Wolverhampton (1911-12) and then 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 in November 1920. His contact on arrival was a Mrs C. Mitchell 1st and East 3rd Street, 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), Burning Tree in Maryland (1924-26), Holston Hills at Knoxville in Tennessee, Norville, Kentucky and then back to the Hermitage Country Club. 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 and Alan Brodie. Thomson became an American Citizen on 3rd January 1927 at the 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.

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 returned to North Berwick, living at 25 East Road.

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.

[13th West Links, North Berwick]
13th West Links, North Berwick © Digitalsport UK

Copyright © Douglas C. Seaton 2015, All Rights Reserved.