I started with the game when I was three or four. My dad was a golf pro at Airco Golf Course, just north of Largo, Florida, for eleven years, and my mom worked there with him—she worked the restaurant and bar—so the whole place was a part of my life growing up. My dad would give lessons, and I'd follow him around—he was always kind of a big idol for me. I admired what he did, and that's what got me started. And later on it turned into a passion.
"I started competing when I was eight. We have great junior golf programs in Florida. There weren't too many girls playing, so I mostly competed against boys on par-three courses. Some of those boys went on to the PGA—Charlie Howell, David Gossett, Luke Donald. But that's when my competitive juices got flowing. I remember one course in particular, during one of my first tournaments—the opening hole was probably only about seventy yards, but I was trying to muscle-out a seven-wood. I was so psyched up and so nervous. I remember barely getting it on the green, I was so excited. I loved it.
"When I was thirteen I played my first national tournament, the Hudson Junior in Hudson, Ohio. The age range was fourteen to eighteen, but the pro there was a good friend of my dad's and they made an exception for me—and I ended up winning the tournament. That was the first time I realized I might be able to do something with the game, and it opened a lot of doors for me. I was able to play in American Junior Golf Association events. I won seventeen of them over five years and was lucky enough to be recruited by several colleges.
"I chose Duke. Itseemed a perfect fit for me: I knew the girls on the team and liked the coach, Dan Brooks, and loved the atmosphere. My freshman year we won the national title.
"It was very different playing for a team. It gave me a bigger—or different—sense of pride when we won together. And we worked hard and we won a lot. It's probably the only time, other than the Curtis Cup, that I felt the team part of the game.
"After my sophomore year, I turned pro. School was great, but there was so much that pulled me in different ways that I wanted to just focus on golf. Now I'm in my fourth year as a professional.
"The first check that I earned was in California. It was, like, $530, and I just remember thinking that it was the coolest thing in the world. I was so excited. Luckily my checks got bigger, but to earn something of my own, to open up a checking account, was great. To be able to make something you love your profession is just amazing. It's something my dad and I talked about a lot. He died suddenly when I was fourteen and he wasn't able to see me get my Tour card, but I like to think he's been looking down on me somehow.
"My first year was very, very good. I was named rookie of the year, and I bought a house, in Tampa. That's by far the greatest gift I've ever given myself. I'm still amazed.
"I belong to the Avila Golf & Country Club—it's got to be one of the best facilities in the state. Derek Jeter lives at the course and had his inaugural golf tournament there, and I met him through one of his friends and played a round with him and Michael Jordan. Derek hadn't played for, like, two years, but he can hit it so far—he just has no idea which way it's going. He's probably one of the nicest people I've ever met.
"Even though I grew up in Florida, I've played the majority of my golf elsewhere. And in Florida we have Bermuda grass, which is very grainy, as opposed to bent grass or fast greens. Bermuda is a pretty tough blade, especially tough to chip from around the greens. A lot of people have a difficult time coming to Florida and chipping from the rough.
"Last year I struggled quite a bit with my swing. I maybe fooled around with stuff I shouldn't have. I had gone to a new teacher my second year and had a very disappointing season. This year's been a lot better. I've gone back to the coach who helped me my rookie year, Justin Trombley, whom I've known since I was young, and it's been a whirlwind of a difference. It's taken me a year and a half to bring me back to where I need to be.
"It made me realize that I really have to be careful whom I trust with my swing. Justin is a very good family friend and a very passionate instructor—and I love the way he teaches.
"But that's what golf is—a lot of ups and downs. It's just a cycle you go through, and you've got to really savor the good moments, because you never know how long it's all going to last.
"I am always working on my confidence and my self-esteem, both on the course and off. It's important to me that I have balance in my life as well. I love golf, but I also like to cook; I like leisure travel. I read all kinds of stuff, nonfiction especially, but I don't read golf books. I think that's just a little too much.
"And I have a trainer, who's helping me get stronger physically. He gets right in my face and gets very, uh . . . he helps me reach my goals, let's just put it that way."
What's in Beth's Bag?
"I play all Cleveland clubs besides my driver and putter— Cleveland TA-7 irons and Tour Action 588 wedges, and Cleveland Launcher three-, five- and seven-woods. My driver is a TaylorMade R7 Quad; I use the Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter and a Callaway HX Tour ball."
Scorecard BETH BAUER
BEST ROUND 62 (fourth lowest in LPGA history)
MEMBERSHIP Avila Golf & Country Club, Tampa, FL
FAVORITE COURSES Pebble Beach and Spyglass
FAVORITE PGA PLAYERS Davis Love III and Ernie Els. "I just like the way Ernie approaches the game. He's so laid back and relaxed. And Davis Love has a similar story to mine—we've both lost our fathers, and they were both teaching pros—so I've always felt a kind of special connection with him."