Carol Semple Thompson, who will be playing in her fifth Curtis Cup for the U.S. side, fondly recalls experiences that form the character of this biennial event.
From the Golf Journal Archives - Curtis Cup Recollections
Jun 01, 2012
By Carol Semple Thompson
(Note: This article originally appeared in the May/June 1988 issue of Golf Journal.)
IN SEPTEMBER of 1964, the Curtis Cup Match was played at the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, in Porthcawl, Wales. As a tender 15-year-old, I was there as a spectator. Peggy Conley, however, a much older girl of 16, was actually playing on the United States Team. That was well beyond my powers of imagination.
My parents, Bud and Phyllis Semple, both USGA officials, decided to travel to Wales. My sister, Fraser, and I were lucky enough to be dragged along. Our plan was to watch the Match, then play some of the great courses in Scotland. The plan was a good one, but there was one small hitch. The weather at Porthcawl was bloody awful. My only memory was a vision of horizontal rain sweeping across some rolling grassy bumps meant to resemble a golf course.
How the players accomplished anything was beyond me. I thought that with long underwear and a rainsuit I was well enough prepared for the conditions, but no mortal could have been comfortable in weather like that. Fortunately the Americans won, and the Semple clan headed off for Scotland. Eight different golf courses in as many days – and I never did take off my long underwear.
WITH THAT as a background, you may understand that I was a little dubious about my subsequent return to Porthcawl 10 years later for the British Women’s Amateur Championship. Somewhat to my disappointment, the weather turned almost reasonable for the final match. I thought those hardy British souls always played in wind and rain. To my pleasure, though, I won.
Then to my great delight I was named to the 1974 United States Curtis Cup Team, only 10 years after Peggy Conley had made it. Though I had won the 1973 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1974 British Ladies Amateur earlier in the year, I was not prepared for the thrill of representing my country in international competition. The Match was played at the San Francisco Golf Club. It is difficult to describe the feelings of elation, combined with responsibility I felt when I watched the Stars and Stripes rising up the flagpole. A flag-raising for the Curtis Cup is no less exciting than the presentation of a gold medal in the Olympics.
We stayed at the elegant Fairmont Hotel, just up the hill from Chinatown. In fact, my roommate, Debbie Massey, woke up one night sweating from a nightmare. She was convinced by her dream that Bonnie Lauer, another teammate, was lost somewhere in Chinatown. Debbie actually went out looking for Bonzo in the middle of the night. I, of course, slept blissfully. I hasten to add that all of this happened the night we won the Curtis Cup, and it probably had nothing to do with the celebrating we had done earlier in the evening.
By 1976, Debbie and I had matured somewhat, and we had another opportunity to play in the Curtis Cup Match, this time at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, south of Liverpool, in England. On our way to the Match, we went through London and had an audience with the Queen, in Buckingham Palace. We had all practiced our curtsies, we were prepared with our white gloves, and we knew to address her as Your Majesty. Queen Elizabeth was a little late for our meeting; rumor had it that her horse apparently had been hurt as she had been practicing riding sidesaddle for her birthday celebration.
When she arrived, she greeted each member of both teams. As we broke up into informal groups, Queen Elizabeth ended up standing by herself.
Debbie and I boldly decided to strike up a conversation. Debbie accuses me of blurting out something like, “How’s your horse?” I remember my opening as a touch more sophisticated. At any rate, we had a lively conversation with her about horses and yachts. She truly is a queen in every sense of the word. Now I have more appreciation for the traditional toast to the Queen that is given at any formal gathering.
THE VENUE in 1980 was the St. Pierre Golf and Country Club, in Chepstow, Wales, Aside from some normal mishaps like burned-up hairdryers (Britain uses higher voltage) and our best wool uniform pants being shrunk in the hotel laundry, we fared very well in the Match. In spite of our large lead over the British, the galleries were enormous and incredibly polite.
The 50th celebration of the Curtis Cup, in 1982, at the Denver Country Club, was, if possible, the most special Match I attended. It was the 50th anniversary of the first formal Match, in 1932, and it was a reunion of an amazing number of former players and captains from both sides.
Approximately 30 Americans and 15 British and Irish alumnae were there, and it was thrilling for me to meet so many people I had only read about, like Enid Wilson and Glenna Collett Vare. Maybe they inspired me to play better golf, because I had my best record in those matches, winning three of three. Of course, it helped to have Juli Inkster as a partner in the foursomes; she had already won the Women’s Amateur twice in succession, and within a month would make it three in a row. She is an amazing player.
So much has been written about the Curtis Cup Match two years ago, when the British and Irish won in the United States for the first time. There is no doubt they played better than our team, and they deserved to win in the blistering heat of a Kansas August. It was a great development for the Matches; it was time for a switch in the tide, although I plan to do everything I can to turn the tide back again in June, at Royal St. George’s Golf Club, in Sandwich, England.
We have everything we need this year – experience, youth, talent, and enthusiasm. We may need a little work on our wind and rain shots, but each player has an excellent record, and every one of them has won my respect over the past several years. Judy Bell, our captain, is already molding us into a team. She is an exceptional leader, with experience both as a player and captain. She will be a strong motivator.
(Editor’s Note: The 1988 USA Curtis Cup Team includes Mrs. Thompson, Kathleen McCarthy Scrivner, Leslie Shannon, Pat Cornett, Caroline Keggi, Tracy Kerdyk, Cindy Scholefield, and Pearl Sinn, plus, as alternates, Anne Sander, Robin Weiss, and Lancy Smith.)
MY PREPARATION this spring has taken two forms, physical and mental. Physically, it only makes sense to practice as much as possible to develop a solid, repeating swing. It is one thing to hit knockdown shots on the practice tee in perfect, sunny, calm weather, but quite another to be faced with howling winds and greens that are best approached with running shots. My home course, in Pennsylvania, does not require the same shot-making a British links course demands. It might be fun to make up some practice games on the range, but our best physical practice will come in the five days leading up to the Match, when we are at the site.
That leaves mental practice. Since it may be difficult to simulate British conditions here at home, we'll have to substitute imagination. I am a great believer in relaxation and visualization. Though I have not had the opportunity to work with a sports psychologist, I have worked on my thinking in other ways.
Each day until June 10 and 11, the dates of the Curtis Cup Match, I will visualize a successful Match. Given time, I will convince myself that success is the only possible outcome. We will definitely bring the cup back.
So, here’s to Royal St. George’s and the competition, and here’s to new friends and old. Here’s to long underwear and Gore-tex rainsuits.
Let's just hope for some decent weather.
The 2012 Curtis Cup will be contested June 8-10 at the Nairn Golf Club in Scotland. For more information about the Match, visit the Curtis Cup section of the USGA website.
“To my great delight I was named to the 1974 United States Curtis Cup Team … It is difficult to describe the feelings of elation, combined with responsibility I felt when I watched the Stars and Stripes rising up the flagpole. A flag-raising for the Curtis Cup is no less exciting than the presentation of a gold medal in the Olympics.” (USGA Museum)
The moment every Curtis Cup player hopes for: when the match is done and the victory won. (USGA Museum)
“Of course, it helped to have Juli Inkster as a partner in the foursomes; she had already won the Women’s Amateur twice in succession, and within a month would make it three in a row. She is an amazing player.” (USGA Museum)