Dressed in a white, long-sleeve golf shirt and shorts, Carol Semple Thompson had the look of one of the 156 competitors assembled at Oakmont Country Club this week for the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open. But armed with a radio, headset and a green patch that said General Chairman of 2010 Women’s Open, the seven-time USGA champion and queen of U.S. women’s amateur golf is serving as a promotional ambassador for this championship. The Sewickley, Pa., resident talked with the USGA’s David Shefter about the unique role she is serving for the biggest championship in women’s golf.
Q: People are so accustomed to seeing you inside the ropes with clubs at a U.S. Women’s Open. Is this a little different for you?
Carol Semple Thompson: This is the new me. It is different. I really don’t know what I am doing (laughs). I am not doing much. It’s fun.
Q: But you played in 32 Women’s Opens. This has to feel a little weird?
Thompson: I’m much more used to playing. It suits me fine because my golf is lousy. I could never be inside the ropes on this golf course at this length. I’m just as happy to not be playing.
Q: Are you seeing the Women’s Open from a different perspective?
Thompson: It’s fascinating to watch how much goes on behind the scenes. I mean the [Oakmont, USGA and Brunos Event] staff is incredible. I’ve been doing things like talking to the media. I’m really much more of a figure head. I’m just at the tip of the pyramid. There are so many people working every day, all day long pulling everything together. I mean the scoreboards, tents, gravel on the roads … it is fascinating.
Q: Is there one aspect of the behind-the-scenes process that you didn’t see as a competitor that has wowed you more than anything else?
Thompson: Probably the super-structure. I didn’t realize how much went into it. Getting the tents and bleachers up. I’ve always seen those things from the golf course, but I had no idea how much it took to get them up and functioning. And the other thing is pulling 2,900 people together as volunteers. That’s a huge organizational project. But they are handling it. The practice rounds [Monday through Wednesday] will be good trial runs.
Q: Your name is synonymous with Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania golf. What have you done to help promote this championship within the community?
Thompson: I’ve given a lot of talks. I would call them speeches, but they’re sort of shorter than that. I’ve been to dinners where people were gathering. I’ve gone and talked about the Open at charity events. And then interviews with television, radio, newspaper people and magazines.
Q: How big is this event for Pittsburgh?
Thompson: They say this is the biggest event Pittsburgh will have in 2010. Of anything, not just a sports event. That’s what Visit Pittsburgh tells us. This is the biggest. It’s big to me. You get 20,000 people moving in any direction, which we hope to have the days of the competition, that’s big.
Q: You competed here at the 1992 U.S. Women’s Open. Outside of the tree removal, do you see anything different with the golf course?
Thompson: The trees are probably the biggest thing. I don’t know that the conditioning is all that different. I’m sure the conditioning is better than it was 18 years ago. Everything is better in conditioning. I don’t remember the ditches along the fairways so much. Maybe I wasn’t in them. I know, I always hit it perfectly straight (laughs). I don’t remember the bunkers being so penal. I mean, I didn’t play well. I didn’t make the cut. My recollection is it was a hard golf course, but now I think it’s harder.
Q: Oakmont has the reputation of being one of the great championship courses in the world. For the women to get this opportunity to play a Women’s Open on this grand venue, how special is it?
Thompson: I, of course, think it’s the most special [because] the men come here on a regular basis [for the U.S. Open] and the women only get here once in a while. I certainly hope the women appreciate it because of the aura and quality of the golf course are both fantastic.
Q: What’s the buzz around Pittsburgh been like as the Women’s Open draws closer?
Thompson: I certainly have a lot more people talking to me about it. They have seen me on television and they know about the Open. So that’s very exciting. The [promotional] campaign seems to be working. I think people will come out and really be interested in the championship.
Q: How much time and energy have you expended for this event?
Thompson: I’ve probably done, on an average, one appearance a week for a year.
Q: Has it been fun and rewarding for you?
Thompson: It’s been fun to see the other side. I’m getting a little long in the tooth and it’s time for me to be doing some other things. I still want to compete. It’s time for me to do this and it’s working out very well.
Q: You served on the USGA Executive Committee and have been involved in championships. Did that experience give you an indication of what it took to conduct an event of this magnitude?
Thompson: Even the Executive Committee doesn’t really see what the staff is doing. They’re here at 4:30 in the morning this week. The people from the Bruno Event Team have been here full-time for a year and a half. So that’s been every day in the office doing stuff. It’s impressive.
Q: And the players don’t likely see all the little things, either.
Thompson: They see registration, hospitality, the golf course, the locker room, but they don’t have any idea what’s really behind the infrastructure.
Q: You competed on a record 12 USA Curtis Cup Teams. Have you run into any ex-teammates this week and have you had a chance to mingle with them?
Thompson: I’ve seen a few. I saw some of the recent Curtis Cup players – Jennifer Song, Jennifer Johnson, Stephanie Kono. I’ve just really gotten to know them in the last couple of weeks from watching the Curtis Cup. In the past month, I’ve seen Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome and Natalie Gulbis (latter two not past Curtis Cup players). I had a chance to play a practice round with Natalie Gulbis,Brittany Lincicome and [2002 Curtis Cup participant] Meredith Duncan. So it’s been fun.
Q: How cool was it to play Oakmont with these fine players?
Thompson: It was really fun because I could play from the front tees and they can go back to where they belong.
Q: With all of these general chairman duties, have you had a chance to compete or prepare for the summer competition schedule?
Thompson: I am trying to pull myself together. I am going to try and qualify for the [U.S. Women’s] Mid-Amateur. I still have an exemption for the [USGA] Senior [Women’s Amateur]. The [U.S. Women’s Amateur] qualifying conflicts with this. I think it’s on Monday and I have to be here for an outing. But I think those days are coming to an end.