Laura Baugh: From LPGA's "Golden Girl" To Stay-At-Home Mom
Laura Baugh was the LPGA's "It Girl" in the 1970s. She was everywhere, smiling for Ultrabrite toothpaste commercials and looking fit, tan and California blonde in her Thunderbird cars. But Baugh, now 54, was more than just a pretty face.
She won the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship at age 16, was a two-time winner of the California Girls Championship, a member of the 1972 U.S. Curtis Cup Team and went on to play for 27 years on the LPGA Tour. Baugh never won on the LPGA, but had 10 runner-up finishes.
During her career, she gave birth to seven children. She also survived much-publicized struggles with abuse and alcoholism, which she detailed in a book that she wrote in 1999. Baugh recently discussed her career journey with the LPGA's Duramed FUTURES Tour senior writer Lisa D. Mickey. Here's what she had to say:
LPGA: You turned pro at age 17 back in 1973. That wasn't so common back then, was it?
LB: Well, Beverly Klass tried to turn pro at age 11, and I think Marlene Hagge turned pro at 14 and Judy Rankin might have turned pro at 17, so it had been done. I turned pro at age 17 when I played in Japan. I went there by myself and played in three tournaments and made a nice check. Plus, IMG gave me a $1,000 guarantee if I went to Japan to play. That was a lot of money to me. In the middle of that year, the LPGA held one of its two Q-Schools, where only three players got status. I was one of them and started playing with the LPGA when I was 18.
LPGA: What do you remember about those early years?
LB: There really weren't other young players, so I was a bit of a loner on the LPGA Tour. My parents divorced when I was 11 and my mom and I moved to California from Florida. We lived in a rough part of town in Long Beach in this $40-a-month place. I remember being hungry and cold. It put a real fire in me to want more. There was a lot of crime where we lived and I didn't want to be afraid anymore. I knew if I practiced hard and studied hard, I could get out of where I was. I was a good student, so I skipped two grades and graduated from high school at age 15. I was accepted at Stanford, but they didn't have a women's golf team, and back then, if you wanted to play golf, you either turned pro or you went to college. Golf was my passion, but I only planned to play for five years and then have a family and start another career either as a lawyer or as a children's dentist. Obviously, five years turned into a lot more.
LPGA: Did you expect to be the LPGA's top rookie in 1973?
LB: Yes, because I won all the time as an amateur. I just didn't expect to lose and I was totally disappointed when I finished second. I knew I only had one chance to be the top rookie and it was an important goal for me, plus it opened up a lot of doors. Companies like Ford, Izod and Ultrabrite toothpaste wanted me to represent their products. I took advantage of it and considered myself to be very fortunate. From age 18 to around 25, I was really busy doing a lot of work for these companies and I made that my priority. I decided that I'd make a little nest egg with my endorsements and win my tournaments later. If you knew where I came from, you'd understand that.
LPGA: Your face was everywhere in the early 1970s and you were a popular athlete to endorse, but how did that affect you as a player?
LB: I didn't have enough time to work on my game - especially my putting and chipping. Plus in Japan, they want you to be a certain size. I had a lot of opportunities there. I did sportswear commercials with Arnold Palmer and a salad dressing commercial in Japan, and I had a TV show, a record and I did some calendars over there. In the U.S., I did the Ultrabrite commercials, I had the Laura Baugh line of golf clothes for Izod, and I was one of the "Young Thunderbirds" for Ford. I was just a kid and I never saw myself as a sex symbol. I saw myself as a golfer. I was a unique combination of a girl who could sell a product and who could play professional golf. When I was 25, IMG said I could retire at 26. I just wanted to make sure that I never had to go back to that bad place where my mom and I had lived. What I didn't know was I would fall in love and want to have children. My priorities changed.
LPGA: From 1973 to 1999, you played with some pretty amazing players on the LPGA Tour. Who stood out?
LB: Oh wow. Patty Berg and I ate dinner together for many years because we both liked to eat early. I played with Mickey Wright and on a par-5 hole, she had another 20 yards that nobody else had. And there was Marlene Hagge, Judy Rankin, Jane Blalock, Sandra Haynie, Nancy Lopez, and then there was Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa. They were all great, great, great! I believe any of the superstars would have been superstars in any era. I also played a lot of exhibitions and team matches with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and even Sam Snead.
LPGA: How was the travel on tour with your children?
LB: I pretty much played all of those years on the LPGA Tour with seven children. I never had a babysitter or a nanny. I used the LPGA Smucker's Day Care and I home-schooled the oldest of the kids. We traveled in a van in the summer months and we'd swim in hotel pools and go to museums. I was exempt for 20 years out there. What a blessing!
LPGA: Your career had a lot of stops and starts. Any regrets? Any mulligans?
LB: You're going to have that when you take time out to have seven kids, and my life was a lot different than a lot of other players' lives. I'd do the breast pump before I teed off. At one point, I had five kids under age 6. Then, I started enjoying wine too much. I was 21 when I had my first drink. I was beaten, raped and left in a ditch by my first husband [who she divorced after less than a year]. I remember hiding from him in Sandra Post's hotel room.
LPGA: Why did alcohol become such a problem for you?
LB: I was abused, so the alcohol made me feel like I could handle things. Alcohol became my good friend and it made everything seem OK. It worked for a while and then I couldn't get enough. Finally, it destroyed my blood platelets. I "bled out" [due to an internal hemorrhage]. I finally went to the Betty Ford Clinic and I've been sober for 14 years. I'm a recovering alcoholic on the 12-Step Program. I don't drink now because I want to live and I try to help other people with their sobriety.
LPGA: Looking back, do you wish you had spent less time on the commercial pursuits and more time on your game?
LB: I love golf and I was just as competitive as anyone else, but I had some great opportunities that sometimes took me away from my game. Sometimes, people were surprised to find out that I could actually play. Unfortunately, I drank most of my retirement away. But I have seven wonderful kids and I really got a lot of joy in watching my children grow up. Things are just fine now.
LPGA: When did you decide to start cutting back on your tournament schedule?
LB: There came a point where I wasn't playing that well and I had so many kids. My drinking also had become an issue. I was trying to stay sober around my kids, and then I would drink at night when nobody was looking. I had to drink or I'd get the shakes. Things finally just fell into place. I went to the Betty Ford Clinic in 1996, and had my last child in 1997. I was ready for a change. And I was going through a second divorce in January 1999. [She has since remarried.]
LPGA: You wrote a book in 1999, entitled "Out of the Rough: An Intimate Portrait of Laura Baugh and Her Sobering Journey," and then you also got involved with TV announcing. How did that transition go?
LB: TV was a good experience and I learned a lot. I worked with CBS, ESPN and the Golf Channel. I did the major championships last year as a golf analyst in the Orlando studio at the Golf Channel. But I've gotten so I don't like to travel. I like to stay home. Now, I am the public. I'm the woman in the grocery store with kids. And when the LPGA is on TV, I want the telecast to come into my living room and give me and my family a chance to get to know the players on the LPGA Tour. It's a wonderful tour and I think the public should know the players better.
LPGA: Do you have a fondest memory?
LB: There are so many. I remember Heather Farr and what a young talent she was. Nancy Lopez had a great sense of humor and Jan Stephenson was the hardest worker I ever saw. JoAnne Carner and her husband Don used to have cookouts in their motor home. We all loved to watch Laura Davies hit the ball. And when Sandra Post turned 30, I took her to Kings Island and we got on a roller coaster called "The Beast."
LPGA: How would you describe your career?
LB: I would call it a very blessed career. I've had the chance to see the world and meet great people. And I've had some real, real good tournaments. The fact that I've been sober for 14 years is a miracle. I've had a great life.
LPGA: What's next on your bucket list?
LB: I've started playing some tournaments again on the Legends Tour [for LPGA players ages 45-over]. I was going to try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open this year, but I need a lot of work. I had a real nice piece of humble pie in the recent sectional qualifier for the Open after I took a 9 on one hole. Laugter But the Open would be about the only thing to get me to practice and leave home. Maybe I'll shoot for the Open next year at the Broadmoor [Golf Club in Colorado Springs, Colo.]. I always get excited for the Open. I guess I'd better get started now.