U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Legendary Amateur Thompson Embraces a Return to Competition
July 27, 2021 | FAIRIELD, CONN.
By Ron Sirak
Carol Semple Thompson is all about golf. She learned the game as a child at Sewickley Heights Golf Club near Pittsburgh from her father Harton, a USGA president, and her mother Phyllis, a USGA committeewoman. In her first tournament triumph, Carol defeated Mom in the finals of the Western Pennsylvania Women’s Championship at the age of 16. And that was just the beginning.
In a career that landed Thompson in the World Golf Hall of Fame and earned her the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor, she won seven USGA titles – trailing only the nine by Jones and Tiger Woods and the eight by JoAnne Gunderson Carner. With Woods, Carner, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, Thompson is one of only five players to win three different USGA championships.
On Thursday, Thompson, 72, tees off in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn., a debut delayed until the third staging of the championship by the illness of her husband, Dick, who passed away in April after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
Remarkably, it is Thompson’s 117th start in a USGA championship – the most by anyone, man or woman.
“It means everything because I grew up as a USGA brat,” Thompson said Tuesday at Brooklawn about her multiple USGA victories and about the opportunity to compete in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
“Both of my parents were involved with the USGA and to be able to play in that many championships and to win, whatever, seven of them, it's just fantastic,” she said. “I could never have imagined that when I was a teenager.”
The résumé Thompson brings into Brooklawn puts her on the extremely short list as the most accomplished amateur golfers of her generation. She won the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am in 1990 and 1997, then the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur four consecutive years beginning in 1999.
If that’s not enough, she played for the United States in the Curtis Cup 12 times and was the non-playing captain twice. In 2013, Thompson was in the inaugural class of the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association Hall of Fame along with Palmer, Lew Worsham, Jock Hutchison and William C. Fownes Jr.
For multiple generations of junior golfers growing up in Western Pennsylvania, the two icons of the game were Palmer and Thompson – local kids who did good. They served as role models, on and off the golf course. Palmer and Thompson not only won, they handled victory – and defeat – with class and compassion.
On Monday, when Thompson and Carner played a practice round together at Brooklawn, they represented a combined 15 USGA titles in five different championships. They also represented part of what makes the U.S. Senior Women’s Open special – the opportunity to not only watch great players but also to honor the greats of the game.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Thompson said about the creation of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. “I think it's worked out beautifully just as the USGA had hoped. It's just so much fun seeing so many friends from the past. I'm thrilled to be here and I thank the USGA very much for the exemption.”
Thompson also represents an increasingly rare breed in the game – the career amateur whose gaudy accomplishments did not serve as a pathway to the professional ranks. In the spirit of Bob Jones and Glenna Collett Vare, Thompson competed solely as an amateur. For her, it was always about the love of the game and the joy of competing.
“Very happy,” Thompson said without hesitation when asked if, looking back, she was comfortable with her decision to be a life-long amateur.
“I think I was competing in a wonderful time for amateurs, and I had exemptions for so many tournaments and got in the Curtis Cup Teams and it was just a great time for me as an amateur,” she said. “I was very lucky in that way. I had many, many exemptions, including my exemption into this year's U.S. Senior Women's Open.”
On Thursday, at 8:47 a.m., Thompson will be back where she belongs – competing. This self-proclaimed “USGA brat” will be joined on No. 12 tee – No. 1 and No. 12 are being used as the starting holes for logistical reasons – by Carner, who has won eight USGA championships, and Ellen Port who, like Thompson, has won seven.
Once again, Thompson will take on the challenges of a USGA championship golf course. Once again, she will walk the fairways with two rivals who are also fast friends. Once again, she will compete at the game she loves on the USGA stage she most enjoys.
And all those who share Thompson’s love of golf will have an opportunity to see one of the greats of the game play – once again. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open is about competing, but it is also about saying thank you. And in Carol Semple Thompson, golf has a lot for which to be thankful.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.