Milestone Achievement For Thompson
Career Amateur Set To Compete In 100th USGA Championship
By David Shefter, USGA
Roswell, Ga. – Reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Jane Park stood before a large group of contestants, USGA officials and invited guests at the players’ dinner Saturday night and was overwhelmed by the résumé.
“I have played in 10 USGA championships, so I am one-tenth of the way there,” said the cool southern Californian 18-year-old, turning her head toward the woman of honor.
That dignitary was Carol Semple Thompson, the venerable 56-year-old amateur from Sewickley, Pa., who will tee it up for the 100th time at a USGA championship on Monday when the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur commences at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course in suburban Atlanta. It’s an accomplishment that is virtually unfathomable.
Think about it. The USGA conducts 13 national championships annually, six of which are specifically for females. But some have age and club-affiliation restrictions – i.e. Girls’ Junior and Women’s Amateur Public Links, meaning Thompson either no longer or never could compete in those.
Yet as a career amateur, and one who came along at a time when the USGA added the Women’s Mid-Amateur (1987) for players 25 years of age and older, Thompson has managed to average 2.3 USGA events a year over the past 43 golf seasons. And if you add the 12 Curtis Cup Matches, five Women’s World Amateur Teams and five USGA Women’s State Teams, she has competed in 122 competitions involving the USGA.
It’s an astonishing record, one that overwhelms even the understated Thompson. Consider that Arnold Palmer only has played in 62 USGA events and Jack Nicklaus has been in 67. William C. Campbell and Chick Evans lead the men’s side with 69. Only Anne Sander comes close to Thompson with 92. Next on the list is Barbara McIntire with 62.
Still, Thompson tries to downplay the historic achievement, one that likely will never be broken as the days of career amateurs are a diminishing breed. She certainly was shocked at all the pomp and circumstance at Saturday night’s contestants’ dinner, where she received not one, but three standing ovations from competitors who are two, three and in some cases four times her junior. Park even referred to her as an “inspiration for several generations” of female golfers, a remark that drew laughter from the audience and Thompson.
The ceremony included a video clip of sound bites from family members, colleagues, USGA officials, media members and fellow competitors, including western Pennsylvania native son Arnold Palmer. Ansley Golf Club presented her a plaque and USGA gave her a framed scroll, documenting all 100 USGA championships.
That was followed by a speech from USGA President Fred Ridley, who flew down from the U.S. Senior Open at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio, just to be at the festivities.
Then Thompson, a seven-time USGA champion, including the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur, spoke about her career as an amateur and the importance golf has played in her life.
She brought out a visor she found collecting dust in one of her closets. “This visor is about 15 years old and it’s older than 15 players here at this championship,” said Thompson, drawing another set of laughs from the attendees.
It was vintage Thompson: self-deprecating, humorous and warm all wrapped into one. She is an icon for women’s golf, especially women’s amateur golf. She is a mentor for old and young players alike.
When the program ended, 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, who tied for second at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open, paid a visit to the dais along with 39-year-old Kathy Hartwiger, the 2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion. Thompson posed for pictures with USGA Women’s Committee members, contestants and other guests.
“I’ve been really lucky,” said Thompson over breakfast the following morning. “The stars came together for me. It was the right time in the world of golf and was good enough that I could be somewhat competitive.”
The year was 1963 and Thompson was just 13 years old and maybe a bit naïve. Who isn’t at that age? But Thompson’s mother, Phyllis, thought it was the right time to enter her daughter in the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Back then, contestants needed to just file an entry and they could go to the championship proper and compete. No sectional qualifying was required like it is today.
“At the time I didn’t know anything about anything,” recalls Thompson of her trip to Wolfert’s Roost Country Club in Albany, N.Y. “I didn’t know who the good players were. My mother … knew the ropes and had played in a number of [USGA] championship, and I had actually been to a couple of championships as a spectator. By the time I was 13, I had been to 10 or 12 or 14 championships.”
So with nerves coursing through her body and a game that wasn’t quite ready for prime time, Thompson competed against the nation’s best juniors. It was more like she just played because she can’t recall what she shot during stroke-play qualifying (it was only 18 holes at the time and just 32 advanced to match play).
“I was awful,” said Thompson of her game. “I am sure I knew I didn’t belong there. My mother had a way of pushing her children and that’s why I was there. I’m not sure I broke 100 (86 got into the match-play draw). I just remember being at Wolfert’s Roost and thought it was such a clever name [for a club]. And this one par 3 that just scared me.”
The hole played only 130-140 yards, but Thompson recalls hitting “something really long like a 3-wood” into the hole that played over water.
“I didn’t even get [my tee shot] there,” said Thompson. “I talked to someone about 20 years later about that hole and that’s when they told me it was 130 yards. In my memory it was 180. It just scared me to death.”
Thompson got over her first USGA experience. She would go on to play in three more Girls’ Juniors without huge success, losing in the first round of match play in the 1965 and ’66 championships.
“I was so bad at the Junior,” she said. “But I did have my good moments. I did win the Western Pennsylvania Championship when I was 16 (beating mom in the final). That was so different. It was just a local thing and I got lucky then.”
A Metamorphosis On And Off Course
By 1972, Thompson’s game had started to evolve to the point where she started to believe she could compete on the national stage with the best players. A fellow Pennsylvania competitor, Mary Conarro, turned her onto a book about psycho cybernetics and how mental stimulation could be used to improve her golf game. At that point, Thompson realized it was just physical mechanics that translated into solid results. She had gone to the North and South Women’s Amateur and shot good qualifying scores, but wound up losing in the second and third rounds of match play because she never took advantage of her good play.
The book got Thompson to imagine good things over bad ones, and introduced her to self talk. Her general outlook and visualization improved and so did her results.
At the 1972 U.S. Women’s Open at Winged Foot Golf Club’s East Course, Thompson finished in a tie for ninth, her best-ever showing at the event but not good enough to earn low-amateur honors. Her 72-hole total of 305 was one behind Jane Bastanchury (now Jane Booth), but it nevertheless was the catalyst for what would occur the next year at Montclair (N.J.) Golf Club.
Thompson arrived at the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur having never advanced beyond the second round in eight previous playings. But earlier that year, she had met Michael Walsh, a steel salesman who also dabbled in hypnosis. He made tapes for Thompson and she listened every night. She would look at words on her golf ball and count backwards from five to zero, which instantly drained any tension.
“I was free to hit the shot that I would visualize,” said Thompson. “It was amazing.”
Thompson advanced to the final where she knocked off another venerable career amateur, Anne Sander, 1 up.
At the prize ceremony, USGA president Lynford Lardner agreed to step away from giving away the Robert Cox Cup to Thompson’s father, Harton Semple, the USGA’s vice president. It’s the first and only time a father has presented a USGA championship to a son or daughter.
It also was the only time Thompson’s father, who became USGA president in 1974-75, saw her win a USGA title. He passed away six months before she won her second national championship at the 1990 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.
“It was like a fairytale,” she said of the ’73 Women’s Amateur. “I think [my father] was totally overwhelmed. But he didn’t tend to show a lot of emotion. He maintained it through the ceremony.”
The next year, Thompson traveled to Wales and won the British Ladies Amateur, a moment that was special because she did it without her parents in the gallery. She says that was the pinnacle of her career, although the one defining shot of the past 43 years in USGA events remains the 27-foot putt she holed to retain the Curtis Cup for the USA side at Fox Chapel Golf Club in her home area of Pittsburgh in 2002.
Since her first Amateur in 1965, Thompson has only failed to not play once, in 1977 when she took a job in a bank and felt it wasn’t justified to take a week off to play when she had only been employed for a month. She has made the cut for match play 33 times, including 32 consecutive straight appearances. She failed to qualify in 2003 and ’04 after making it to the third round in 2002 as a 52-year-old.
“Everything in my life has fallen into place,” said Thompson. “My life has been absolutely wonderful. I have been able to keep playing, I’ve been healthy, had a great husband and family behind me. I’m a very happy person.”
Thirty-two times Thompson has competed at the U.S. Women’s Open, a mark that ranks among the best of all time. Only LPGA Hall of Famer Marlene Hagge has played in more (33), although three-time winner Hollis Stacy has competed in 31, as has LPGA Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth.
While Thompson never did win – Catherine Lacoste is the only amateur to have won the Open – she has had a few memorable experiences.
At the 1988 Open at Five Farms outside of Baltimore, she shot an opening-round 79 and appeared to be headed home early. Her husband, Dick, certainly thought so when he made the comment Friday morning in their hotel room. “Do you want to leave tonight or on Saturday morning?” he asked Carol.
Thompson knew exactly the game he was playing. This wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark. It was calculated and motivational.
“He really annoyed me and he knew it, too,” remembered Thompson. “He did it deliberately.”
That day, Thompson shot 71 and made the cut.
Three years earlier at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., Dick was caddieing for Thompson, who was paired with Ayako Okamoto of Japan. During the round, Dick tried his best to communicate to some of the Japanese fans lined along the fairways using what Carol described was “pigeon Japanese.” Okamoto’s caddie that week was also a retired New York City policeman, so Dick also struck up conversation with him. In the meantime, Carol was trying to compete through the extra-curricular activities of her husband.
“There I was trying to be serious,” said Thompson. “I think he felt he was keeping me loose, which was fun for about four holes because I wasn’t playing well. After that, he decided he didn’t want to continue [as my caddie].”
At the 1994 Open at Indianwood in Lake Orion, Mich., Thompson was given an early starting time for the first round. All she did was go out and shoot a 66, which remains the lowest score by an amateur, although Brittany Lincicome matched it at the 2004 Women’s Open at The Orchards. The round momentarily put Thompson into the lead, although Tammie Green, Judy Dickinson and eventual winner Patty Sheehan would match it and Helen Alfredsson would go three better with a 63.
Thompson, nevertheless, found herself doing television interviews and going in front of reporters in the media center. She also went to the locker room where phones were set up for competitors. Remember, this was the era before cell phones and high-speed Internet.
“I tried calling everyone and nobody was home,” said Thompson, who would finish with scores of 75-76-74 and a tie for 31st. (low amateur). “I finally got a hold of my husband who said he was watching at a tavern. I was just shocked when I ended up shooting 66.”
Mid-Amateurs and Beyond
The USGA established the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in 1987 for players 25 and older. It came five years after the first U.S. Mid-Amateur was played by male golfers. It came along at the perfect time for Thompson, who has competed in all 18 and won two of them, 1990 and 1997.
The first came at Allegheny Country Club, Thompson’s home course in Sewickley. Her father had passed away six months earlier, so her mother took on the duties as honorary co-chairperson for the championship. During the final against Page Marsh Lea, Thompson fell behind, 3 down, after eight holes. Then a lengthy weather delay ensued, forcing the competitors to the safe confines of the clubhouse.
Thompson found a spot in the locker room and began having a conversation with her late father. “C’mon dad, what am I doing?” she said repeatedly. Maybe her father heard the words because she went out after the delay and won the next three holes. She eventually won the 18-hole match, 3 and 1.
Thompson was back at Allegheny in 2001 under different emotional conditions. She was shooting for a third consecutive USGA Senior Women’s Amateur title when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred in New York and Washington D.C. One of the hijacked planes crashed not far from Sewickley in a western Pennsylvania field. An eerie pall fell over the championship, but Thompson overcame everything and defeated Anne Carr, 1 up, for the title, one that she would win again in 2002.
“I was really thrilled to win the ’99 Senior because everyone was expecting me to win,” said Thompson of the championship for ladies 50 and over. “And it was nice to get that weight [immediately] off my shoulders. In match play, you just never know. I hope to play in 10 or 15 more Seniors and a few more Women’s Mids. If I play in two for the next 10 years, maybe I’ll play in another 20 [USGA events].”
One thing is for certain is that Thompson will captain the 2006 USA Curtis Cup team, a fitting honor for a player who has competed in more Matches than any player on either side of the Atlantic. Through the years, Thompson has teamed with some of the greats in the game, including Hall of Famers Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel, Nancy Lopez and Sheehan. Now she’ll get the chance to lead the next group of potentially great players.
“I have seen a lot of them,” says of the many Curtis Cup players who have gone on to success in professional golf. “I have a lot of friends out there. It’s been nice.”
Many would say the same of Thompson.David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.
U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship
TICKETS – Admission and parking for all seven days of the championship are free of charge.
WHO CAN PLAY? – The U.S. Women’s Amateur is open to female amateurs who have USGA Handicap Indexes not exceeding 5.4. Entries closed June 15.
DEFENDING CHAMPION – Jane Park, 18, or Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., will defend the title she won in 2004.
THE FIELD – The 2005 field will include seven Georgia players. They are Laura Coble of Augusta, Jackie Beers of Bonaire, Alina Lee of Evans, Kyu Ri Ban of Duluth, Dori Carter of Valdosta, Diana Ramage of Fayetteville and Margaret Shirley of Roswell.
TELEVISION COVERAGE – Match-play rounds will be telecast on The Golf Channel Aug. 3-7 from 4-6 p.m., EDT.
OTHER PROMINENT PAST CHAMPIONS – Patty Berg, 1938; Betty Jameson, 1939, 1940; Babe Didrickson Zaharias, 1946; Louise Suggs, 1947; Beth Daniel, 1975, 1977; Juli Simpson (Inkster), 1980, 1981, 1982; Pat Hurst, 1990; Kelli Kuehne, 1995, 1996; Grace Park, 1998; Dorothy Delasin, 1999.
CHAMPIONSHIP COURSE CONDITIONS – The following mowing heights will be used for the championship: fairways 1/2"; tees 7/16"; collars 1/4". Putting greens will be prepared so that they are firm and fast; to measure approximately 11 feet on the USGA Stimpmeter. Intermediate rough: 1", width approximately 72" along fairways, width approximately 30" wide around putting greens. Primary rough: 2 1/4".
FUTURE WOMEN’S AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP SITES – The 2006 U. S. Women’s Amateur will be conducted at Pumpkin Ridge G.C., North Plains, Ore., Aug. 7 – 13.
MEDIA CONTACT – The Media Center for the U.S. Women’s Amateur will be located in the main clubhouse at Ansley Golf Club. Rhonda Glenn and Beth Murrison will be the USGA staff members on site. The Media Center phone numbers are (678)639-7488 and (678)639-7494.