Museum Moment - Thompson’s Putter Finds a Home

Jun 10, 2010

By Rhonda Glenn
Manager, USGA Communications

In an amateur career full of great memories – a victory in the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur, berths on 12 USA Curtis Cup teams, and selection to the World Golf Hall of Fame among them – Carol Semple Thompson’s final putt in her last match as a Curtis Cup player stands out.

It was Aug. 4, 2002. The setting was the 18th hole at Fox Chapel Golf Club and Thompson stood over a seemingly unmakeable putt. Her ball wasn’t even on the green, but lay nestled in the fringe a few inches from the putting surface. The hole was some 27 feet away. Her match against Vicki Laing of the Great Britain & Ireland team was on the line.

Even if she lost the hole, Thompson couldn’t blow the match. She was 1 up, which guaranteed at least a tie and ½ point for the home team. But this was a special match, most likely her last as a player. And this was a special place: Pittsburgh, Pa., very near her home in Sewickley. If ever Thompson enjoyed the home-field advantage, this was it.

This 32nd Curtis Cup match had a personality of its own. Tom Ridge, who was the USA director of Homeland Security and former Pennsylvania governor, and Arnold Palmer, who was Arnold Palmer, were on hand for the flag-raising ceremony. Dr. Mary Budke, the 1972 Women’s Amateur champion, was USA captain. Budke’s honorary captain was three-time Curtis Cup player and 1992 captain Judy Oliver, a Pittsburgh resident and a cancer victim. It would be the last match that Oliver would ever see.

Sunday, the final day, was stifling and great waves of heat blasted the course as if from a furnace. Spectators passed around water and iced tea, ignoring hygiene and slurping from their neighbor’s cups. It was that hot.

The USA held an 8-4 lead after the morning foursomes, but it became a tenuous lead. Needing 5½ points to tie, GB&I at one point was leading in four singles matches and all square in the other two. Some overzealous American supporters began chanting, “USA! USA!” near the ninth tee, but a few veteran American team members from the 1950s and ‘60s, cognizant of their own role as gracious hosts, quickly hushed them.

The matches plodded on. Laing was 3 up on Thompson through seven, but Thompson won four straight holes. When she captured the 17th, she was 1 up, setting up the drama at the 18th. Thompson’s point was crucial. While her teammate Meredith Duncan was in a close battle with Alison Coffey and the USA’s Laura Myerscough seemed to be holding off Heather Stirling, those matches were rocky. Anything could happen. The GB&I team could still win.

Thompson was an anachronism on this team. At 53, she was a generation older than her college-age teammates but in her record 12th Curtis Cup appearance, Thompson didn’t panic in the clutch. And so she stood over the 27-foot putt on the 18th. Laing was only 12 feet away and seemed to have a better chance at making her putt.

Thompson was steady enough, but she was indeed nervous. “My putt certainly seemed like 100 feet at the time” she recently recalled.

Then a curious twist of fate gave her the line. “A person on the opposite side of the green had a blue cast on their leg and it was the perfect aiming point,” Thompson said. “The cast stood out like a sore thumb to me.

“My intention was to lay up close enough for a concession, since I was 1 up and Vicki Laing would be forced to make her 12-foot birdie putt to get a half (in the match).”

The Duncan and Myerscough matches were still far from the clubhouse and most of the spectators gathered around the 18th green to watch the conclusion of the Thompson-Laing battle. With so many friends on hand, Thompson remembers the atmosphere at Fox Chapel as “magical.”

She stood in the fringe, carefully rested her putter head behind the ball, and took the putter back in a smooth stroke. She struck it and “the ball just kept rolling, creeping really, and finally fell into the hole,” she recalled.

Spectators burst out with a huge roar. This Curtis Cup Match was, for all practical purposes, over. Thompson’s putt had clinched her match with Laing and nailed down the crucial winning point for the USA.

“It was quite a shock,” Thompson said. “After THE putt, there was a headline in a British tabloid that I particularly enjoyed, ‘Old Dog Does the Trick.’ People in Pittsburgh still come up to me and remark on seeing the putt. What fun!”

When Duncan and Myerscough clinched their points, the USA had won, 11 to 7.

Today Thompson’s putter, a Never Compromise model TDP 3.2, the thick steel blade putter that she used for that historic 27-footer on the home hole, resides in the USGA Museum.

Thompson doesn’t recall how she got the putter, but she knows it did the job.

“I’m thrilled that the USGA has it and actually displays it,” she said. “I’m not much of an equipment geek, and I figure most equipment is replaceable.”

And yet, this putter, once held in the talented hands of Carole Semple Thompson, will always be a reminder of a historic stroke at a crucial time. It’s one of many historic clubs that golf fans who come to the Museum can enjoy.

Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. Contact her at rglenn@usga.org with questions or comments.

Carol Semple Thompson’s putt had clinched her match with Laing and nailed down the crucial winning point for the USA. (USGA Museum)


Today Thompson’s putter, a Never Compromise model TDP 3.2, the thick steel blade putter that she used for that historic 27-footer on the home hole, resides in the USGA Museum. (USGA Museum)