February 28, 2010

My Shot: Laura Baugh

"There's no silence more crushing than being alone in a hotel room after being around seven kids. So I buy a stuffed animal for company and then take it home to the kids."

"There's no silence more crushing than being alone in a hotel room after being around seven kids. So I buy a stuffed animal for company and then take it home to the kids."

Age 48 Orlando, Florida

I've been around. I played with Colonel Sanders once. The Colonel Sanders, the Kentucky Fried Chicken guy. I was only 17, and what a weird experience that was. Talking to him was like talking to a Disney character. He looked odd in a golf shirt. I just couldn't get over it. What shocked me was, the Colonel could flat hit it. He told me he loved golf more than chicken.

I'm not a "Mrs." because I'm not married anymore. I don't like "Ms." and I'm sure as heck not a "Miss." I'm just Laura Baugh.

I'm also Fertile Myrtle.I have seven kids. If I were still married, I'd probably have 15 by now. Bushels of them. If a good man came along and the setting was right, it would be a blessing to have more.

I finished second 10 times on the LPGA Tour. At first I figured the wins would come later, and that I'd do the commercials and stuff to make money and concentrate harder on my golf after I was all set. But I never did win. I started having babies, and when I teed it up between children, I found more ways to get beat than you can imagine.

My 6-year-old started first grade a few months ago. For the first time in 21 years I had five hours a day to myself. It was a shocking thing, because for two decades straight I either had a baby in me or on me. So what do I do now? Well, the first day I got my nails done. That was neat. The next day it was like, What do I do now? I called a friend, and she told me I needed to get a hobby. That seemed like a good idea. So I decided to take up golf.

After I drop the kids off at school, I go to Perkins for breakfast. Tiger Woods comes in a lot with Mark O'Meara and John Cook. Tiger always walks in with a cell phone to his ear, pretending he's talking so no one will bother him. I've sat there over my coffee and watched him. Man, is he gorgeous or what?

I can't remember not playing golf. I won the National PeeWee five times, the first time when I was 3. It was a three-hole tournament, all par 3s. I won my division by, like, 35 shots. I was a talented little thing, but remember, this was 1958. There were only three girls in my division.

My dad insisted that I play golf every day. Sometimes it was too much for a little girl. There was a theater in town that had Saturday matinees. The other 10-year-old girls at school got to go to the movies, and I desperately wanted to go with them, but my dad wouldn't let me. "We play golf on Saturdays," he said. I got very angry, but I accepted it, and, in a way, liked it. My whole life, I couldn't play enough golf.

There's this debate as to whether Michelle Wie's parents are doing the right thing, having her compete so much at such a high level at so tender an age. It's a moot point discussing it now, because the cat's already out of the bag. Once you give a kid a taste of something as grandiose as what she's experienced, there is no living way you can roll it back. It would almost be cruel. Did you know Michelle wears a size-11 shoe? It's amazing, but it's true. And she'll never wear a size 10 again.

My mom and dad divorced when I was 11. My mom and I moved from Florida to Long Beach, Calif. She got us into a studio apartment there. Olive Avenue, No. 3B. It was in a bad neighborhood. The rent was $40 a month. I lived on a diet of popcorn, lemon-chiffon ice milk and Omega hamburgers. I was cold, hungry and scared. It was a strange time, because right in the middle of it, at age 16, I won the U.S. Women's Amateur. I traveled alone; my dad sent me a standby airline ticket, and I stayed in private housing. There was all this opulence amid the poverty we lived in.

A lot of us kids snuck onto the public courses around town. We'd get kicked off, then sneak right back on. Once we snuck onto the same course three times in one day. For kids who can't afford to play, I have no problem with them sneaking on, so long as they leave the course as they found it. They say there's no such thing as a victimless crime, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for the "victim" in this case.

We didn't have a TV until I was 17. My mom and I only watched TV when we went to my grandparents' house, where I had to watch a lot of "Bonanza." Since there was no TV, I read all the time. Because of that, I graduated from high school two years early, when I was 15, with a 4.0 grade-point average. Stanford offered me a full-ride academic scholarship when I was 17 — just when I was catching reruns of "Bewitched" and "Gilligan's Island."

I turned Stanford down. IMG [International Management Group] offered me $1,000 to turn pro and go to Japan, all expenses paid. How could I refuse? It seemed like a fortune. Stanford didn't have a golf program, so there would have been no golf. By taking IMG's offer, I figured I'd play professionally for a few years, then quit and go back to school. It didn't work out that way. It never does. You think Tiger Woods is going to go back to college, ever? Please.

My second boyfriend was also my first husband. The marriage lasted a month. He beat me up on our wedding night, and it got worse. Sam Snead, of all people, knew about this guy. "Be careful, Laura," he said. He phoned me a lot to see how I was doing. When the marriage ended, Sam called. "I knew he was bad," he said, "but I couldn't tell you." Sam always looked out for me. He had softness about him a lot of people didn't know about.

You might want to skip this part. I quit drinking on May 17, 1996, after my "bleedout." I was drinking so much I started bleeding spontaneously from every place you can imagine. My eyes, fingernails, toenails, ears, mouth, nose, private parts — I was bleeding inside my brain. It was very painful. When this happens, you're dying. The doctors had pretty much given up on me, and people came to the hospital to say goodbye. I was given the last rites. The fact I recovered is extraordinary. I can never drink again, or I'll bleed out again almost immediately and die.

Twenty glasses of wine was nothing to me. Last year I went to a restaurant. A friend asked if I wouldn't like to have just one drink. I looked at the bar for a long time, all the shelves of liquor that were there. I said, "No, thanks. There isn't enough liquor there to satisfy me anyway, so I'll just pass."

One of the beguiling things about drinking is that it can help you play better. Once, in Arizona, there was a rain delay. I went inside and had about six glasses of wine. It was pouring, and I assumed we were finished for the day. Suddenly, the clouds parted, and they called us back out to finish. I thought, "Oh, no." I hadn't drunk on the course before, and now I've got five holes left. So I go out and birdie those last five holes. That was the worst thing that could have happened to me. At that point I saw alcohol as my friend and savior, when in fact it was the devil in disguise.

Seven kids and an alcoholic mother. It sounds terrible, and it was, but only Chelsea, who was 13 when I stopped, remembers the nightmare stuff vividly. E.J. was 7 when I went into rehab, Haley was 6 and Robert was 4. They knew something was wrong around their house but didn't know what. In any case, after I came back from Betty Ford, Chelsea was scared of me, and bitter. It lasted several months, but I persisted in trying to reach her. After 2 years, she said to me one day, "I want you to know that I never respected you when you were drinking. I couldn't talk to you or look up to you. Now it's like you're a different person. I love you, Mom, but more than that, I respect you." You needed a bath towel to soak up my tears.

Thirty years ago, being pretty or sexy was resented, as though it made you something less as an athlete. The attitudes are even more Victorian today. My scorecard was and is blind to the fact I was blonde and wore lipstick. Various parties on the LPGA Tour knew it, however, and didn't like it. It's everyone's loss.

I nursed all of my children, which led to a problem when I went back to playing golf. As the round progressed, my breasts would get larger. And larger. Toward the end of the round, I'd begin lactating. At the McDonald's LPGA Championship one year, I was in contention and was approaching the holes that were televised. My blouse was beginning to spot — the pads women wear only help so much — and I started to panic. What could I do? I walked to the water cooler at the back of the 16th tee and just drenched myself from my neck to my waist. That solved one problem, although there was still the interference. I never did figure that one out.

I need only two hours' sleep a night. I go to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. and get up at 6. I listen to the radio, do the laundry, watch The Golf Channel. On Saturdays, I sleep in.

I've never owned an iron. I'm a clothes folder, one of the best ever. A person learns something in 31 years of traveling. If you were to see my clothes when they come out of a suitcase, you'd be in awe. No wrinkles, no excuses — that's my motto.

You hear players say, "My goal is to get in contention on Sunday. If I do that enough times, eventually things will go my way." They should know that eventually, things may not go their way. How do you think I finished second 10 times? If I were in their shoes, I'd play more aggressively, because there's no guarantee someone else will choke.

I'll be honest. I have my dresses and pants dry-cleaned and pressed. But I do fold everything else.

I have empathy for Anna Kournikova. I see a woman who treasures her sport and who worked harder than you can imagine. The problem is, she's pretty and tried to take advantage of that for herself and, not incidentally, her sport. That's the shame of it — the perception that she exploited her looks and never really loved the game or tried seriously to achieve her goals.

I need plastic surgery on my neck and my knees. Too much sun. I'll be careful when I need to get my face done. I don't want to walk around looking like I'm in a constant state of surprise.

You can fall out of love with a person, stop admiring them and no longer trust them, and still keep a marriage together. It happens every day. But once you lose respect for a person, it's over.

The commercial I made for Ultra Brite toothpaste won a Clio Award. Here's how it goes: A voice in the background says, "Hey, Laura Baugh, how's your love life?" And I say, "What's a love life?"

I'll bet I'm probably one of the few alcoholics who never smoked or took illegal drugs. It's a good thing, because with my personality, I would have gone overboard with them, too.

At one point I switched to beer. It didn't agree with me — made me so sick I threw up. It was monotonous: drink, throw up, start drinking again immediately, throw up. I emptied the fridge eventually, but beer wasn't my cup of tea.

Charles Schulz was the most impressive person I ever met. He was an extension of his Peanuts cartoons. He was carefree, smart, funny, athletic and a great family man. I've never met another person who was so happy being in his own skin. For all his talent, he seemed to admire everyone he met. I always envied the way Charlie looked at life, like it was all too good to be true.

Ladies, to get power you have to move off the ball laterally. Slide your upper body to your right on the backswing and you'll get some extra momentum when you move the other way. That's the key — you have to move back to your left.

At Grand Cypress, we have a rule: If you talk on your cell phone, it's a two-stroke penalty. If you're playing a better-ball match, your team loses the hole. Needless to say, nobody tries to sneak their phone onto the course.

After my divorce, I didn't date for five years. Not once. Last February, my daughter Haley, who was 12, said, "Mom, I bet you don't have a date for Valentine's Day." That made me decide it was time to get out and talk to big people. I hadn't drunk for seven years, the baggage from my marriage was behind me, and I could tell the kids could probably use a break from me. So I started going out again last year, and it's been fun, though a little like taking up golf again. It's awkward at first, but then it comes back to you, like riding a bike.

I'm not quick to admit it, but I can install doors, rebuild a drain field, do some plumbing and get the car fixed without getting ripped off. A single mother learns how to do these things.

If you play badly but get something out of the round — like learning you can't hit a 4-iron out of a divot — then it was a good day. Take what you can, and be happy. If you judge the round solely by what you shot, you're going to be disappointed, because most of the time that number is higher than you thought it would be.

Don't lie to me. Not even little white lies. Tell me you like the color of my dress even if you hate the design. I'll get the hint.

'I always wanted to be a children's dentist. I knew I'd be making a difference. And that I could play golf on Wednesday afternoons.'

Men are more vulnerable than women. They're more susceptible to being manipulated. I've known so many successful men who were brilliant intellectually or in business who've been taken for a ride by a woman. Women do have their crosses to bear, but when it comes to love, women generally fare better than men.

Because I'm 48, there's a perception that the field of available men is narrow for me. In fact, it's incredibly wide. Someone who looks old enough to be my father would obviously be too old anyway, and a guy who looks old enough to be my son would be too young. The age span in between is extremely generous. I know one thing: There's no rush.

What would a man love most about me? My kids. They're my greatest asset, my biggest drawing card. He won't believe how wonderful they are. After he recovers from what it costs to take all eight of us out to the movies, he'll realize that the package deal — and it is a package deal — was more than worth the price of admission.

I found that I played just as well wearing lipstick as I did without it. There's no downside to trying to look as attractive as you can.

Of course there are gay women on the LPGA Tour. The percentage is probably higher there than the percentage of gay women in theater. On the other hand, the percentage of gay women in golf probably is lower than that of gay men in theater. What I'm saying is, there are gay people in every walk of life. You know that. Let's move on.

People assume that I somehow know more than I did 20 years ago. In some ways that's true. But my math is worse, and my memory stinks.

Men with gray hair look great, whereas women are told they have "character." But the right shade of gray can make a woman look stunning. Color the hair shining silver, and an older woman can look beautiful in a way a young girl can't.

The secret to wearing mascara in hot, humid weather: First you apply a thin layer of mascara. Then apply a thin layer of baby powder. Another thin layer of mascara and you're set.

They make golf gloves to accommodate women with long nails, but they aren't always available. So do this: Take a razor blade or scissors, and sever a few of the stitches on the seam at the tip of each finger so your nails pop through. Works perfectly.

People see other people do shameful things and say, "I'd never do that under any circumstances." My answer to that is, "You might be surprised."