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Sportswoman of the year: Thompson's investment in golf pays big dividends for her, game

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

For a person who has lost track of how many tournaments she has won, Carol Semple Thompson knows a wise investment when she sees one.

Golfer Carol Semple Thompson and Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart will be honored Feb. 9 at the Dapper Dan banquet. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

That's why she made a big withdrawal from the bank more than 15 years ago -- herself.

Thompson quit her job as municipal credit analyst at Equibank in 1985 because she wanted to invest more time in her golf game, which had already taken her to lofty heights as an amateur. After all, she had already won the 1973 U.S. Women's Amateur and the 1974 British Women's Amateur Championship.

But Thompson wanted to remain one of the top female amateur players in the country, and the extra time to work on the game she had been playing since she was 6 years old would be just what she needed to achieve her goal.

The result: Thompson won the 1990 and 1997 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur championship; three consecutive U.S. Senior Amateur championships, the last of which was won at her home course, Allegheny Country Club, in September; has been selected to 11 U.S. Curtis Cup teams; and has appeared in 31 U.S. Women's Open championships -- just two short of the all-time record.

What's more, she has found a place in golf history occupied by only a select -- and impressive -- few. Thompson is one of only five players to win three different United States Golf Association championships in their careers. The others: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, JoAnne Carner and Tiger Woods.

"I'm very proud of making as many Curtis Cup teams as I have," Thompson said. "It shows longevity. I haven't been the top player every year, but I've been one of the top eight or 10 every year."

Thompson's three-peat in the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur, when she defeated Anne Carr, 2-up, in the championship match on her home course, has allowed her to achieve another special award -- the 2001 Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year.

"That's fantastic," Thompson said. "It's quite an honor because it's one of the big awards in the city."

Through the years, Thompson, 52, has always been acclaimed as the best female amateur player in the state. She has won 18 Pennsylvania Amateur titles, nine Women's Golf Association of Western Pennsylvania championships and 13 club championships at Allegheny, where one of her fiercest rivals was Judy Oliver, a friend since high school.

Oliver, a three-time member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team, would have likely won more local championships if it wasn't for Thompson. Curiously, though, it was Oliver who handed Thompson one of her rare defeats in a championship match when he she holed a wedge for eagle at the second playoff hole to win the 2001 West Penn title in July.

But Thompson's reputation stretches nationally and internationally, going all the way back to when she won the U.S. Women's Amateur championship when she was 24 and the British Amateur championship the following year.

"Holding those two titles together is certainly the greatest single achievement in my life," Thompson said. "To win the British on top of the U.S. [Amateur] was special."

Since then, Thompson has piled up the accomplishments. The 1990 Mid-Amateur (over-25) championship was one of her most special triumphs because it also came at Allegheny and was six months after her father, Harton S. "Bud" Semple, a former USGA president, died.

When she won her third U.S. Senior Amateur title in a row at her home course three months ago, the first person to greet her as she came off the 17th green was her mother, Phyllis, an accomplished amateur player and former club champion at Allegheny

What's more, when she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open this year, she tied Kathy Whitworth and Hollis Stacy, two of the all-time great players in LPGA Tour history, with 31 appearances in the national championship. The all-time record is 33, held by Marlene Hagge.

"I can't say my goal is to make 32 Opens," Thompson said. "My goal is make another Curtis Cup team."

Thompson wants to do that because the 2002 Curtis Cup matches, which pit the U.S. against a women's amateur team from Great Britain and Ireland, will be held at the Fox Chapel Golf Club next summer.

Nobody has epitomized amateur golf in Western Pennsylvania, perhaps in the country, like Thompson.

"I thought about turning pro when I first got out of college," Thompson said. "But after I won the amateur [in 1974], that cemented in my mind that I wanted to stay in the game as an amateur and play for the love of the game."

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