Hall Calls Semple ThompsonNovember 10, 2008
By Ken Klavon, USGA
St. Augustine, Fla. - As her team congregated on a tepid January
day, Florida sun beaming down from a cloudless sky, Carol Semple
Thompson approached the first tee to wondering faces.
Some of the hand-chosen competitors for the 2008 USA Curtis Cup
team seemed more like starlit pupils. How could they not be? For
they knew that their captain one of the most decorated amateurs
the game has ever known.
Thompson's played on a record 12 USA Curtis Cup teams, holds the
most Curtis Cup victories (18); has competed in more than 100
USGA championships; has won seven national titles (second-most to
Bob Jones and Tiger Woods); is one of only 11 players to win the
U.S. Amateur (1973) and British Amateur (1974); and was honored
with the Bob Jones Award in 2003, the USGA's highest honor.
But this was no ordinary practice session. Thompson set
down her clubs and announced, one, she would be playing and, two,
with a pregnant pause, everyone was to have fun.
Two first-timer Curtis Cuppers, Mina Harigae and Kimberly Kim,
looked at each other bemused. Later that afternoon, as the two
giggled through volleying a ball on an adjacent tennis court,
both seemed bowled over by Thompson's relaxed and modest
"I mean, she's
Carol Semple Thompson
," said Harigae. "When she talks about golf, you listen."
For years Semple Thompson has talked, alright. Mainly through her
golf clubs. With apologies to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt,
Semple Thompson has made a stellar career of actually speaking
softly and carrying a big golf stick.
It helped her get far.
It also made the career amateur worthy of inclusion into
the World Golf Hall of Fame. Thompson will join Bob Charles,
designer Pete Dye, Denny Shute, Craig Wood (1941 U.S. Open
champion) and writer Herbert Warren Wind (1995 Bob Jones Award
winner) in this year's hall-of-fame class. USGA past president
and fellow hall-of- famer Judy Bell will present Thompson.
"I would call Carol the First Lady of Women's Amateur Golf,"
said USGA Executive Director David Fay.
"I certainly do not feel worthy of this, but at the same time
I'm loving every minute of it. How could I not?" said
Thompson after receiving the news in June.
The 60-year-old Sewickley, Pa., resident grew up with golf
coursing through her veins. Her mother, Phyllis Semple, now 87,
was a local champion. Her late father, Harton "Bud" Semple, was a
cognoscenti of the game who rose through the ranks to become the
USGA's president in 1974-75.
In 1973, Thompson experienced one of her most precious memories.
After winning the U.S. Women's Amateur, then USGA President
Lynford Lardner moved aside to let her dad, a vice president of
the Association at the time, present the trophy to her. (Thompson
explored turning professional after her Amateur victory, and her
father even offered to pay her expenses in the effort, through
she ultimately chose to remain an amateur.)
Thompson's other "highlight highlight," as she called it, came in
2006 and would have little bearing on individual
accomplishment. The setting, Pittsburgh's Fox Chapel Golf
Club, had a lot to do with it, since it was in her backyard. Her
nerves were spent because she wanted to play well in front of the
many friends and family in attendance. Few would predict the
fairy-tale ending in which Thompson would exert a rare display of
raucous emotion after draining a 27-foot putt to secure the point
that retained the Curtis Cup for the .
"It was a miracle putt. It was at least a hundred feet long,"
said Thompson for effect. "And it broke about 18 feet from right
to left and it was downhill. But it did go in the hole and it
meant that I won the match.
"But one of my favorite stories about that particular putt was
that one of the British tabloids came out with a headline the
next day and said, 'Old dog does the trick.'"
That's the beauty and the grace of Thompson. When she has spoken
about success, it's usually with some self-deprecating comment.
Her prudence guided her to be as competitive as a thoroughbred on
the track of golf yet equally as gracious off it. Win or lose.
Thompson merely molded her career as a grateful champion - the
top superlative for any athlete.
This past October, shortly after qualifying for match play at the
U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur, Thompson didn't seem convinced she had
the game to take her all the way. The assessment was
illuminating. She indicated over the past five years that her
game has suffered irreparable cracks that come with age.
It underscored her approach as a realist.
More important, it served as part of the formula that made her
one of the best amateurs the game has ever known. And for that,
she now stands with all the other immortals of golf.
KenKlavonis the USGA's Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with
questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.