Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame’s Laura Baugh LPGA ‘It Girl’ of the 1970s
By SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME // July 4, 2016
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
ABOVE VIDEO: Laura Baugh frequently accompanied her father Hale and brothers Hale Jr. and Beau as they took to the golf course at Rockledge Country Club. Little did they know that she would take success on the links to a personal level that put her in the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame for her prowess as a professional golfer.
LAURA BAUGH – 2013 INDUCTEE
• LPGA Rookie of the Year
• U.S. Women’s Amateur Champ
• ‘Most Beautiful Golfer’
INHERENT APTITUDE FOR GOLF
As a 3-year-old, Laura Baugh frequently accompanied her father Hale and brothers Hale Jr. and Beau as they took to the golf course at Rockledge Country Club.
Little did they know that she would take success on the links to a personal level that put her in the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame for her prowess as a professional golfer.
As a child she seemed to have an inherent aptitude for the game and played every chance she could, even winning the National Pee Wee Golf title at the age of three and subsequently claiming the title four more times.
At the age of 11, Laura’s parents divorced and she moved with her mother Sally to Long Beach, California where she continued to play every chance she had and also whenever she traveled back to Brevard County in the summer to visit her father.
Her mother’s home in California was in a tough area and motivated Baugh to grow up fast, succeed quickly and move on.
‘MOST BEAUTIFUL GOLFER’
At the age of 14 she won the Los Angeles Women’s City Golf Championships, repeated as champ the following year and also played as an amateur in the U.S. Open.
She also excelled academically and applied herself to her schoolwork almost as much as her golf game, skipping nearly two full grades, and graduating from high school at age 15.
She was accepted into Stanford University, where she hoped to be able to continue playing golf at the collegiate level. However, Stanford didn’t have a women’s golf team and at that point the teenager was wondering where her true path in life was headed.
Then fate intervened. In 1971, at the age of 16, Laura competed at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Tournament at the Atlanta Country Club. The event was a turning point for Laura as she defeated Beth Barry on the final hole of the 36-hole match to win the tournament and, in the process, became the youngest champion in the tourney’s 76-year history.
Winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur thrust her onto the national stage where her beauty, talent and smile skyrocketed her to the front of the endorsement line. The Los Angeles Times named her “Woman of the Year” and in 1972, Golf Digest hailed her as the “Most Beautiful Golfer.”
At age 17 she decided to turn professional, but because the minimum age to compete on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour was 18, she played a few tournaments in Japan while waiting to get her pro card, and then breezed through Qualification School for the LPGA.
LPGA ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Baugh was an immediate success in her first season, tying for second place in her first tour event at the Lady Tara Classic, and later that year claiming the runner-up spot in the Child & Family Services Open. Her play was good enough for Laura to be voted the 1973 LPGA Rookie of the Year.
She was a natural for high-end endorsements. She appeared in a popular Ultra Brite toothpaste television commercial that further cemented her fame and went on to win a CLIO award as one of the year’s top advertisements.
Her original plan was to play on the tour for five years and then retire to become a lawyer or a children’s dentist, then get married and have a family.
However, as the money from more ad campaigns like Ford Thunderbird automobiles, a sportswear commercial with Arnold Palmer and her own line of Izod clothing sold under the Laura Baugh name kept pouring in, her plans to settle down and make a career change were put on hold.
‘IT GIRL’ OF THE 1970s
At the pinnacle of her career she shared the spotlight with other national golf celebrities, often competing in exhibitions with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino and Sam Snead.
Yes, as a beautiful, tanned blonde and prodigious athlete, Laura Baugh was the LGPA’s “It Girl” in the 1970s.
She was on the tour for over a quarter century, and as her trophy case expanded and her national magazine covers piled up, her life became progressively more complicated and ultimately frenetic. She married and divorced three times and gave birth to seven children during that span, taking the kids along in a van in the summers as she played in events.
Believing she needed something to help make everything seem more manageable, she turned to alcohol, which led to addiction. Laura eventually overcame her alcoholism through treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic and wrote about her struggles in her best-selling book “Out of the Rough,” in which she speaks candidly about her lifetime of pain, pressure, and perseverance in the hope to help others cope and heal.
Her career came full circle after she left the LPGA following the 2001 season. She has worked with CBS and ESPN covering tournaments and provided commentary for the Golf Channel in Orlando.
Now happily married for a fourth time, Laura, 57, sells real estate in Central Florida, enjoys being a mother and plays a little on the Legends Tour when her schedule permits.
THE 2017 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME Banquet and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Cocoa Beach Country Club on Friday, May 11 with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. – and dinner and ceremony at 7 p.m.
FOR INFORMATION OR TO MAKE A NOMINATION to the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame call 321-615-8111 or e-mail MaverickMultimedia@gmail.com