A week of reviving memories of past days in the country of his birth, of catching up with old friends, of endearing himself to those who’d never met him and taking part in the celebrations of the 100th Australian Open Championship is over for David Graham.
It was a hectic, yet relaxing week, but the man who specialists said 14 years ago would only live for another 10 years because of a severe heart condition showed no sign of slackening his pace in company with wife Maureen.
“They were wrong, or maybe I’m just a tough old coot,” he said yesterday before heading to the official Golf Australia luncheon in The Australian GC clubhouse where NSW Premier Mike Baird was also in attendance.
“My God, look at the people out there,” he said, gazing down the hill over a much changed landscape since the day he lifted trophy – the Stonehaven Cup in 1977 – as the final groups of players were hitting off in the 2015 Emirates Australian Open.
“It’s been a very enjoyable week, it’s been a great week. I love coming back to The Australian as there are so many great memories of winning and playing here, and seeing the transformation of the old course, to the first (Jack) Nicklaus course and then to the second Nicklaus course,” he said.
We were in a quiet section of the members’ locker room with Maureen and close friend, the Honorable John Brown, sports minister in former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s cabinet.
Graham saw the name of one member on a locker – J.D. Packer. Obviously Jamie Packer. His thoughts flashed back to Jamie’s father, the late Kerry, who sponsored the Open from 1974-1978 through his Bulletin magazine and financed both the club and the first Nicklaus redesign of the Kensington course.
There was a table/desk in the partitioned off section on which Brown was sitting.
“Don’t mention the desk in Parliament House,” I jokingly suggested to Graham.
Graham replied: “You know, I would have done the same thing with my bride. Why not? He might have been the only one who got caught but I guarantee he didn’t start it and I’m sure there have been others since. At least he didn’t do a Clinton.”
“This is being recorded,” I said.
“That’s fine,” said Brown.
Yes, back in the 1980’s Brown and his then wife Jan Murray were sprung in an activity Adam and Eve invented. Murray left her black lace knickers in an ashtray of Brown’s departmental head in a protest that her conjugal rights were being denied by Brown’s long absences from home.
Last night Graham was guest of honour at the Australian Golf Writers Association annual dinner receiving our 2015 Honoree of the Year award, not quite as big as his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame at St Andrews in Open Championship week in July but arguably just as much long overdue.
Three other Australian major champions were in attendance – five-times British Open Champion, Pete Thomson, the 1991 British Open Champion, Ian Baker Finch and the 2006 US Open Champion, Geoff Ogilvy.
Graham, who won the 1981 US Open two years after his PGA championship win, interviewed Ogilvy on his win at Winged Foot, specifically about the last two holes when Colin Montgomerie and Phil Mickelson imploded why Ogilvy kept his nerve.
It’s a pity it wasn’t taped for posterity. If Ogilvy ever stops playing and designing courses and writing for golf magazines, David Feherty should look over his shoulder. Geoff’s dry wit is, as the late Richie Benaud would say, “simply marvelous”.
Richie’s wife Daphne, who along with Richie, is a foundation member of the AGWA, was at the dinner sitting with dear friends Peter and Mary Thomson, and keeping in touch with the Australia – New Zealand test via an App on her mobile phone. She relayed progress to Graham across the table.
Graham hoped to see just a bit of the cricket on Channel 9 today while watching the golf on Seven. I recall Kerry Packer once exploding when he entered The Australian clubhouse bar when the TV was on a different channel to his Nine Network.
A new TV set had to be bought.
The Grahams and Thomsons have spent time in each other’s company this week, dining together and, of course, taking part in official engagements through the week.
It should be remembered that Graham was the first International team captain for The Presidents Cup against the United States in 1994 and was named as captain for the 1966 event, but replaced by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Fincham after a revolt of some international players.
“Was there tension between Graham and Thomson in the years following that,” I asked of Graham.
“Never,” he replied. “The 1996 Presidents Cup was a fiasco and it was brought about by one man’s selfish, egotistical attitude and he should never have been allowed to do it.”
He didn’t mention the specific player, but a clue might be that he instantly said when we met up yet again for the week yesterday when he asked: “Did you have to wear that shirt?”
It was white with a Great White Shark logo on the left side.
There was another occasion when tension may have, and probably did, arise between Thomson and Graham. It was in 1972 at Kooyonga GC in Adelaide when they were both tied in the Open after 72, and in those days it was an 18-hole playoff the next day.
At the appointed time, they walked onto the first tee of the opening par 5 and Thomson placed his tee peg in the ground and hit his drive. A visibly bewildered, even annoyed, Graham promptly hooked his drive out-of-bounds – a double bogey 7 to Thomson’s birdie 4. Thomson won the playoff by four shots.
“In that playoff, Peter gave me a thorough beating. I was caught off guard. I was expecting a coin toss (for the honour) I didn’t expect he would pull rank and just tee off saying, ‘Let’s get this over with.’ That was disturbing to a young guy. I’ll never forget that,” Graham said.
Go back a few years into the 1960s when Graham was a 17-year-old at Melbourne’s Riversdale course where the club pro George Naismith, who changed Graham from a left-handed player to right-handed, organised for him to play a game with Thomson at his home club, the Victoria GC.
He takes up the story: “I arrived and Peter was at least an hour late or I was an hour early and I asked the attendant have you heard from Mr Thomson. He replied, ‘You’ll hear him coming when he enters the main gate.’
“There was a roar of a car, a red Aston Martin, came up and Peter stepped out and said, ‘Come on, let’s go play,’” Graham said today.
Thomson was great friends with the author Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond who always drove an Aston Martin, and Thomson still has a telegram in his well-kept scrapbook from Fleming congratulating him on one of his five Open wins.
“Peter Thomson is the Arnold Palmer of Australian golf so to speak. You see an 86-year-old man going to dinners, shaking hands, signing autographs. That’s a very unique commitment for somebody,” Graham said.
“To do all the travelling that he does is also special. And Arnold did the same thing even at his age. They don’t need the money, they don’t need recognition, they certainly don’t need the accolades or anything, but it’s the way they’re built. It’s their DNA.
“It’s the love of the game and the respect for the game.”
This week, David Graham has shown he, too, that same DNA.