Former U.S. Star Beth Bauer “Looking Forward To What’s Next”
Beth Bauer played on the LPGA Tour from 2002-2007, earning honors as the 2002 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year. Her rookie season was highlighted by six top-10 and 15 top-20 finishes with a career-best runner-up finish at the 2002 Jamie Farr Kroger Classic. The Floridian posted a career-low score of 62 during the third round of the 2003 Welch’s/Fry’s Championship.
Prior to qualifying for the LPGA, Bauer played on the 2001 FUTURES Golf Tour, where she won four tournaments, as well as Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors. And by finishing at the top of the FUTURES’ 2001 money list, she earned full 2002 LPGA membership. Bauer also set a single-season earnings record of $81,529 that wasn’t broken until 2008, a milestone set in an era before FUTURES tournament purses were $100,000 or more.
As an amateur, Bauer won 17 American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments, was a two-time AJGA Player of the Year, and an AJGA All-American from 1993-1998. She played on two U.S. Curtis Cup teams. As a collegiate player at Duke University, she was a two-time All-American and was a member of the winning 1999 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship team.
Bauer recently discussed her playing career with LPGA senior writer Lisa D. Mickey. Here’s what she had to say:
LPGA: You tore through amateur golf and turned professional with an impressive resume of success. Why was it so easy back then?
BAUER: I’ve been around golf since I was 3. My dad was a teaching professional and both of my parents played golf. My mom worked with him at Arico Golf Club in Clearwater, Fla., and later, he was the general manager at Summerfield Crossings Golf Club [outside Tampa, Fla.]. I’ve always been competitive in everything and I just wanted to win. I was 13 when I won my first national tournament. The next year at 14, I won the Maxfli PGA and some AJGA events. My mom and I were on this mission for me to travel, win tournaments and to get a college scholarship.
LPGA: You got one and went to Duke University, where you were a two-time All-American and helped the Blue Devils win the 1999 NCAA Championship. How different was that than junior golf?
BAUER: It was a lot different being part of a team because you spend a lot of time with the other girls. It was a great experience and I loved Coach an Brooks, but I left school early after two years. I was struggling at the end of my sophomore year. Duke is pretty demanding and we missed a lot of school, so I did my share of all-nighters to make up class work. I finally called coach that summer after my sophomore year to tell him I was leaving. I knew there was a ponorip market for me at that time.
LPGA: Your father was your teacher in golf. What kind of effect did his death have on you and your goals in the game?
BAUER: My dad died on August 29th, 1994. I was 14 and he was 41. It’s all kind of a blur. I went up to play in the Canon Cup at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., and he couldn’t even walk nine holes. He went to the hospital and was misdiagnosed, and then he went back into the hospital. They said he had Guillain-Barre syndrome [an autoimmune disorder affecting the body’s nervous system]. It’s like a toxin that gets inside of you and once you have it, you can have reoccurring events, like a heart attack. He passed away only three weeks after the first time he was sick. I remember the funeral. I’m the only child, so thankfully, my mom and I had each other. After that, I never thought about not playing. I kind of used his death as inspiration to keep playing.
LPGA: After you left college early to turn pro, how shocked were you not to qualify for the LPGA on your first attempt in the fall of 2000?
BAUER: I remember being devastated. I didn’t play well at all that week. It could have been nerves.
LPGA: But you turned that disappointment around and went to the FUTURES Tour in 2001, where you won four tournaments and finished as the Tour’s Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Did you go out there mad?
BAUER: It was really about momentum. After I earned my first check, I was like, “Oh my God, this is cool!” From there, I got closer to how I wanted to be playing and then I knew my game was back. My mom always believed in me. She’d pump me up and I got the confidence that I felt like I could win. I earned my 2002 LPGA card that year [by finishing among the top three 2001 FUTURES Tour money winners].
LPGA: You ended up being the LPGA’s top rookie in 2002. Was that a surprise?
BAUER: It came down to me and Natalie Gulbis, and I just turned it up a notch. I almost won the Jamie Farr tournament, and I played in the final group at the Women’s British Open with Karrie Webb on Saturday and Sunday. A lot of good things were happening.
LPGA: You had another good year in 2003, posting your career-low score of 62. How did you feel about your game that season?
BAUER: It was OK, but I could feel something was missing in my swing and my confidence. I just lost my feel and it was with my driver more than anything. It felt like I was having the yips with the driver. I was always fine on the range, but on the course, I became a little apprehensive. The next thing I knew, I was trying to find something – trying new things in my swing, new teachers, anything. It’s so mental and hard to explain. It’s almost an embarrassing feeling. Golf truly is a humbling game. To this day, that experience makes me appreciate the good times.
LPGA: Your momentum began to slide in 2004 and by the end of 2007, you had lost your LPGA card. What happened?
BAUER: It slowly got worse. My nerves were shot. My confidence was gone. I remember going to LPGA Q-School the last time and I knew I didn’t have a prayer to keep my card. After that Q-school, I didn’t touch a club for six months.
LPGA: Did you lose your love for the game or your desire to spend your life on the road?
BAUER: It seems like a lifetime ago when I spent 20-30 weeks on the road. I miss seeing my friends on the tour. I miss seeing the success and the young girls’ faces when I signed autographs. But now, I feel balanced again. I don’t know if I’d really enjoy that life again. I love being home and cooking and being back in school. I am happy.
LPGA: When did you go back to school and what are you studying?
BAUER: I went back to school in 2008 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I’m doing it online from the University of Phoenix. I’ve always enjoyed children and I was always a straight-A student, so it’s great to be back in school working to become an elementary school teacher. I’ve done more than 100 hours of classroom observations and I’ll do my student teaching next spring. In addition to school, I’ve also been working at Heritage Harbor Golf and Country in Lutz, Fla., outside Tampa.
LPGA: Didn’t you meet somebody special at the golf course?
BAUER: Laugter Yes, I’m engaged to Andy Grace and we’re getting married in November, so I’ve been pretty busy lately with wedding plans. I met him playing golf there at the club. He never got to see me play competitively, but he thinks it’s great when we play and I score a 70 or 72.
LPGA: How much golf are you playing now?
BAUER: I play in some golf outings, scrambles and charity events, and I still pay my dues as a Class A LPGA professional. I probably play once every two or three weeks. Golf is a lot more fun now.
LPGA: How is being Beth Bauer now different than being Beth Bauer the rising American star?
BAUER: My life is a lot less stressful now. Sometimes I wonder if everybody else gets nervous going to work every day? I’m the same person, but my priorities have changed. Now, I take care of my fiancé Andy and my dog. My mom and I talk every day. I think when you live in such a fast pace, you lose contact with a lot of important things in your life. Days turn into weeks, and into months, and into years. I found that the LPGA Tour encompassed my whole life. I had to find ways to balance my life with home, family, friends, school and golf. I think I got burned out. I’d had enough.
LPGA: Was it because you were in a rush to start your professional golf career when you left college?
BAUER: I don’t think there was a rush. It was just my time, and I saw it as time to commit full-time to golf. I wanted to make sure I was ready to commit and give it all I had.
LPGA: How do you feel now to see so many young women skipping college completely to turn pro?
BAUER: Everybody’s different, but college was a great experience for me. Education is so important and I always took my education seriously. It’s a good thing to have because you just never know. Anything can happen. At least I had two years of college when I decided to go back to school and get a degree so I could get a job.
LPGA: Are you proud of your past history in golf or is that just a page from your past?
BAUER: I’m very proud of it. I had a great run there for a while, but it doesn’t define who I am. It is a page from my past, but I’m looking forward to what’s next. I want to be a great wife and a great teacher. And I want to have more behind my name than just the golf from my past.