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Monday, November 10, 2008

Carol Semple Thompson (lifetime achievement), Bob Charles, Craig Wood, Pete Dye, Herbert Warren Wind and Denny Shute were being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this evening in the United States.

The legend that is career amateur

Carol Semple Thompson

Senior Staff Writer, Golfweek (
Carol Semple Thompson likes to get her hands dirty. She pulls weeds, mucks out stalls and tends to the goats on her family’s Pennsylvania farm. In the fall, she can be found on her horse, Country, trotting through the woods with her sisters on a local fox hunt.
It’s a bit of a fake hunt really, because someone drags a scent through the forest for hounds to follow. Yet it’s thrilling all the same.
“I’ve always thought that the definition of being an amateur meant you don’t have to work on your game every minute,” said Thompson, who says she loves golf deeply but never let it define her life.
Perhaps that balance is the secret to Thompson’s longevity. Thompson, 60, picked up the game at age 5 and beat her mother, Phyllis, a talented player in her own right, as a 16-year-old in the final match of the Western Pennsylvania Women’s Golf Championship for her first title.
“That was the end of me,” Phyllis, 87, deadpanned.
Thompson went on to compete in more than 100 U.S. Golf Association events, won seven national championships, played on 12 Curtis Cup teams and captained two more. Her outstanding amateur record, coupled with years of service, puts Thompson in an elite group.
She is the sixth female amateur inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame under the lifetime-achievement category, joining amateurs such as former USGA president Judy Bell and Canada’s Marlene Streit.
“I’m still quite amazed, actually,” Thompson said. “I never thought I was particularly of the same ilk as most of these Hall of Fame (recipients).”
Thompson’s father, Bud Semple, was USGA president in 1974-75, and Phyllis served on USGA committees and competed in several U.S. Women’s Opens.
Thompson served on the Executive Committee from 1994 to 2000. Nowadays, she divides her time in western Pennsylvania between country and club. She goes to Allegheny Country Club daily, often playing nine holes with her mom. Allegheny is where she picked up the game and met her husband, too, as Dick Thompson visited to give a speech for the USGA Green Section. The Thompsons have been married 25 years. The name Semple is legendary in the Keystone State.
“The Pennsylvania State Amateur, I won that in 1964,” (mother) Phyllis said. “I call it BC – before Carol – because she won it 21 times.”
One of Thompson’s fondest memories came at the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur. USGA president Lynford Lardner Jr. stepped aside so that Thompson’s father (then vice president) could present his daughter with her first USGA trophy.
Things came full circle 17 years later when the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur was held at Allegheny. Thompson hoisted the trophy on her home course, six months after her father died. “He was in my thoughts that whole week,” she said.
Thompson’s swing emulates her personality – reliable and steady. She’ll never outgrow the game. But as courses stretch farther each year, Thompson finds it increasingly hard to keep up. She says she’ll keep playing as long as she enjoys the competition and remains healthy.
“I always said she was the best long-iron player (among) women I’d ever seen,” said Bell, who will introduce Thompson at the induction ceremony. “I think she’s one of golf’s treasures. She has shown everyone you can play this game the rest of your life and play it very well.”
In 2002, Thompson joined seven college players on the U.S. Curtis Cup team, playing in her backyard at Fox Chapel Golf Club, near Pittsburgh. LPGA players-to-be Meredith Duncan and Mollie Fankhauser were on that team. Thompson sank a 27-foot putt on the 18th Sunday to retain the Cup for the Americans, and Duncan, who was finishing on the 17th, recalls the “Tiger roar.”
Fankhauser was so impressed with her Curtis Cup partner that she strongly considered staying amateur. Thompson invited her team-mates over for dinner at her home early in the week, and they stood speechless in front of her wall of USGA medals and memorabilia.
“She was just like everybody’s really cool mom,” Duncan said. “It’s like sitting in the presence of a legend, and you don’t really realize it until you see what she’s done.”
Fankhauser marvelled at Thompson’s ability to connect with all ages, “regardless of where you come from or what kind of golf you played.” Thompson refers to it as part of golf’s “mystique.”
Streit is one of Thompson’s closest friends and her partner in annual four-ball events. For practice rounds, Streit said Thompson prefers to round out the group with strangers. She considers it a game of relationships.
“She never says anything bad about anybody,” Streit said.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone staying amateur long enough to match Thompson’s resume. After graduating from Hollins University in 1970 with a degree in economics, Thompson considered turning professional. Her father offered to support her financially for a year if she stayed amateur.
“I, of course, took him up on that,” Thompson said, “went to Florida and practised all winter and was awful the next summer.”
It was an easy decision (not to turn pro).
“Obviously for her it’s not about the money,” Duncan said. “There’s too many of us, including me, who want to make millions. “I don’t think that we’ll ever see one like her again.”
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Beth Ann Baldry is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach her, e-mail