Phyllis Semple Dies In Delray Beach

Mother of 7-time USGA champion, Hall of Famer was 87 years old

January 18, 2009

By Rhonda Glenn, USGA

In 2002, music echoed from a room of the clubhouse at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, N.Y. It seemed unusual because this was the week of the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship and volunteers scurried around the club with business-like expressions, while competitors either showed hope or defeat, depending on their on-course performance.

But in this small room overlooking the 18th green, a lone figure pounded out a raucous " Yes Sir, That's My Baby," on a baby grand. It was Phyllis Semple, joyfully celebrating yet another match-play victory by her daughter, Carol Semple Thompson.

Semple had watched every stroke. Disabled but unbowed by a battle with lupus since 1973, she walked many a match - hundreds of matches her daughter played and a number of match-play tussles of her own. Determined, wise-cracking and unfailingly polite, Semple put her own stamp on the game.

Phyllis Keister Semple, 87, matriarch of a family that included a USGA president and a seven-time USGA champion, and a fine golfer in her own right, died Sunday at her winter home in Delray Beach, Fla.

In recent years Semple was best known as the mother of Carol Semple Thompson, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in November. Phyllis was the wife of the late Harton S. "Bud" Semple, who served as USGA president in 1974-75.

Phyllis Semple also played a major role on various USGA committees for more than 50 years. She was named to the Women's Committee in 1957 and retired from the Museum Committee in 2008 after many years of service. She was captain of the 1976 USA Women's World Amateur Team.

As a player, Semple was a fearsome competitor. A one-time student of famed professional Tommy Armour, she was a former North & South Senior Women's Amateur champion and won the 1987 Pennsylvania Women's Senior Amateur. She captured the 1964 Pennsylvania Women's Amateur title and was a seven-time West Penn Women's Amateur champion. In 1963, she reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur at Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown, Mass. In 1965, she lost to her daughter, Carol, in the final of the West Penn Women's Amateur, a victory that would carry Carol on to bigger and greater titles in the game.

"She constantly pushed me into playing well, in a loving way," said Thompson on Sunday. "She was the most competitive person I have ever known in my life. All of the health problems she endured.

"If I'd had 50 percent of her competitive spirit, maybe I would have been a good player," added the winner of the 1973 U.S. Women's Amateur, 1990 and '97 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur, and the four-time champion of the USGA Senior Women's Amateur (1999-02).

"One of my favorite friends," said former USGA President Judy Bell, a two-time chairman of the USGA Women's Committee. "Phyllis Semple was the best competitor on and off the golf course I have ever known. There was absolutely no quit with her. I admire her more than I could ever express."

On Feb. 4, 2007, at the age of 85, Phyllis made two holes-in-one, acing the fourth and tenth holes at the St. Andrews Club, a par-3 course, in Delray Beach. Playing with her daughter Carol, Phyllis said, "After the first one, I said I can do it again."

At the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur during a walk across the parking lot of the Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa., with Barbara Romack, the 1954 U.S. Women's Amateur champion at Semple's home course, Allegheny Country Club, Phyllis Semple was spotted rummaging through the trunk of her car.

"Hey, Phyllis," Barbara called. "Do you remember what happened 50 years ago today?""Yeah," called the 83-year-old Phyllis, not missing a beat, "some blonde won the Women's Amateur at my club!"

Phyllis's interests went beyond golf. She was an accomplished harpist and pianist who founded the Sewickley Concert in the Park in 1994 and was a longtime board member of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

With her husband Bud, Phyllis Semple raised five children; Harton Semple Jr., the aforementioned Carol Semple Thompson, Cherry White, Heather Semple and her late daughter, Fraser Foster. She also had seven grandchildren.

Visitation has been set for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 at Allegheny C.C. in Sewickley. A memorial service will be held the following day at 11:30 a.m. at the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley.

Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at rglenn@usga.org.

 



  





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