From the Golf Journal Archives - Three Great Irons and a New Champion

Oct 26, 2012

Seven-time USGA champion Carol Semple Thompson, who celebrates her birthday on Oct. 27, was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2008. In 1973, she claimed her first USGA title when she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

By Robert Sommers

(Note: This article originally appeared in the October 1973 issue of Golf Journal.)

At approximately 2 o’clock in the afternoon on August 18, the Women’s Amateur Championship looked as if it were just about over. Carol Semple hit a wild drive into the trees on the right of the fifth fairway of the Montclair Golf Club in Montclair, N.J., could do no more than play a safe shot back, and lost the hole to Mrs. Anne Sander. It was the third hole of the last four that Miss Semple lost, and she was then 3 down.

Wasn’t it expected? Hadn’t Mrs. Sander played superbly all week? Hadn’t she won the Women’s Amateur three times in the past and wasn’t she determined to win this one? And doesn’t Mrs. Sander usually win when she’s determined? Also, against such a superb competitor as Mrs. Sander, wasn’t it normal for her opponents to crack under the strain and play wild shots?

So one would think.

Carol Semple, though, was not without tournament experience. She was playing in her seventh Women’s Amateur Championship, and even though she had never advanced beyond the second round, she had been in tight situations in the past. She had won four Western Pennsylvania Amateur Championships, gone to the final of the Women’s Intercollegiate Championship, won the Pennsylvania Women’s title, twice had been medalist in the North and South, and in 1972 she had been runner-up in the Canadian and South Atlantic Championships, and tied for ninth in the Women’s Open. Just a few weeks previous to the Women’s Amateur, Miss Semple had shot 307 at the Country Club of Rochester (N.Y.) and tied for 35th place in the 1973 Women’s Open. Mrs. Sander was 11 strokes better and finished fourth with 296.

No, Miss Semple did not crack. Instead, over the next five holes she played some absolutely inspiring irons – a 5-iron to within four inches of the hole on the 153-yard seventh; a 4-iron to five feet on the eight, and a blind wedge shot to three feet on the par-5 10th. Three quick birdies and it was a new match.

Miss Semple went on to win, 1 up, and in so doing ended a long quest by the Semple family.

Harton S. Semple, of Sewickley, Pa., is Carol’s father and vice president of the USGA, and he added an unusual touch to the presentation ceremonies. Lynford Lardner, Jr., of Milwaukee, USGA president, ordinarily would have presented the trophy to the champion, but in view of the circumstances he stepped aside and for the first time in recorded USGA history a father presented a championship trophy to his daughter.

“Our family has been trying to get its hands on a trophy like this for 25 years,” Semple told the audience at the ceremonies. “Finally, our daughter has done it. I couldn’t be more proud. This is a wonderful moment and a wonderful present for Carol’s mother who only yesterday came home after seven weeks in the hospital.”

Semple himself had qualified nine times for the National Amateur, while Mrs. Semple had won six Western Pennsylvania Championships, one State Championship, and in 1971 won the Women’s North and South Senior Championship. They both, however, had always stopped short of the national title.

Until this year it looked as if Carol might have the same kind of record, even as she played her early rounds. She might have been eliminated in all of them because only once did she win before the 17th hole. That was a 4-and-3 victory over Julie Green, of Barrington, R.I., in the fourth round. She won one of the finest matches played in the Women’s Amateur when she defeated Mary Budke, 2 and 1, in the quarterfinal round. Miss Budke, from Dayton, Ore., was the defending champion and only the match before had been taken 20 holes before eliminating Amy Alcott, of Los Angeles. The previous week Miss Alcott had won the Girls’ Junior Championship at the nearby Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville, N.J., and had won two matches in the Women’s Amateur, defeating Liana Zambresky, of Pebble Beach, Calif., 7 and 5, in the second round.

Miss Semple played Montclair in one under par against Miss Budke and by the end of nine holes had a 6-up lead. Miss Budke then rallied, won four holes on the second nine, but Miss Semple had enough holes in hand to withstand the pressure. She won, 2 and 1.

In her semifinal match against Bonnie Lauer, the women’s Intercollegiate champion from Union Lake, Mich., Carol was 2 down with three to play, finished birdie-par-birdie, won all three holes and the match, 1 up.

Mrs. Sander, meanwhile, was having a much smoother ride into the final. She had not played in the championship for three years, and had not played much of anything for a year. She began preparation for the Women’s Amateur with a trip to Britain and the British Women’s Championship at Carnoustie. She led qualifying by seven strokes, in the process setting a women’s course record with 71, and then lost in the second round to Mrs. Ann Irvin, an old Curtis Cup opponent. Mrs. Irvin went on to win the championship.

Next Mrs. Sander went to Rochester for the Women’s Open. She shot 296 and finished fourth. She breezed through the first five matches, never once going beyond the 15th hole. She won her first-round match against Mrs. Mary C. Gushing, of Ann Arbor, 5 and 4; followed with a 7-and-6 victory over Mrs. John C. Oliver, of Pittsburgh; eliminated Peggy Harmon, the former Girls’ Junior champion from Palm Bay, Fla., 5 and 4; and then defeated Peggy Conley, of Spokane, Wash., 5 and 4. Her semifinal opponent was Donna Horton, of Jacksonville, Fla., who eliminated in successive rounds Mrs. Jane Bastanchury Booth, of Palm Beach, Fla., 2 and 1, and Miss Beth Barry, Dauphin Island, Ala., 4 and 3. Miss Barry was semifinalist in 1971, Mrs. Booth semifinalist in 1970.

The two finalists were a study in contrasts. Miss Semple is taller than Mrs. Sander, and has a big, sweeping swing. When she has the club at the top of her backswing, she reminds one of Sam Snead. Mrs. Sander, on the other hand, has a shorter swing and she seems to emphasize control of the club.

Miss Semple was off to a fast start, winning two of the first three holes. Mrs. Sander came back and was only one down after nine. She then won four holes on the second nine against two for Miss Semple, and she held a 1-up lead after the morning portion of the final.

Miss Semple squared the match with a par 4 against a bogey 5 on the first hole of the afternoon, and then Miss Semple began making bogeys and was 3 down after 5. She then played that series of fine irons, and with eight holes to play the match was square once again. But not for long. On the 11th, a 398-yard par 4, Mrs. Sander got a break. Her approach fell short of the green and it seemed certain she would have to play her next from a bunker. Instead of staying in the sand, however, the ball ran through and up onto the green. Miss Semple, meanwhile, had gone over, and when she needed three to get down, she was 1 down once again.

The key to the match probably was the 12th, a 179-yard par 3 with an elevated green and a bunker cut into the left front. Mrs. Sander reached the green, but Miss Semple’s ball lodged on the slope above the bunker. She played out much too strongly and went about 15 feet past the hole. Once again it looked as if her errors would cost her dearly and that she would soon be 2 down.

She lined up the putt carefully, and then rolled it right into the hole. A 3 and a half. No, it would not be Carol Semple who cracked. Instead it was the experienced Mrs. Sander. The first chink appeared on the 15th, a straightaway par 4 of only 329 yards. A cross bunker knifes into the fairway in the drive zone, and Mrs. Sander hit it. She made 5 against Miss Semple’s 4 and the match was even once more. They both made par 3s on the 147-yard 16th, and then had but two holes to play. On the 17th tee Mrs. Sander once again had trouble with her drive. She pulled it left into the rough near another fairway bunker. She could not get her second shot airborne, and then found herself blocked from the green by some evergreens. She played over the trees, but the shot fell into another bunker. She made 6, lost to a 4 and was one down with one to play. Mrs. Sander continued to have bunker trouble on the 18th, but it didn’t matter. Miss Semple made a par 5 and the match was over.

It was a long way to come to meet such frustration as Mrs. Sander ran into in that final 18 holes and her disappointment showed during the presentation. As she spoke to the audience before the gracious clubhouse, several times her voice almost broke.

Her disappointment was overshadowed by the happy Semples.

At the moment of victory: Carol Semple with her father, Harton S. Semple, vice president of the USGA. (USGA Museum)


Carol Semple, though, was not without tournament experience. She was playing in her seventh Women’s Amateur Championship, and even though she had never advanced beyond the second round, she had been in tight situations in the past. (USGA Museum)


Wasn’t it expected? Hadn’t Mrs. Sander played superbly all week? Hadn’t she won the Women’s Amateur three times in the past and wasn’t she determined to win this one? And doesn’t Mrs. Sander usually win when she’s determined? Also, against such a superb competitor as Mrs. Sander, wasn’t it normal for her opponents to crack under the strain and play wild shots? (USGA Museum)