Palm Harbor, Fla. – A slender, athletic-looking woman with blonde hair stands before a classroom of fifth-graders at Lake St. George Elementary School to deliver a prepared science lesson.
Poised and confident, she begins the presentation by pushing a button on a computer, instantly engaging the seated 10- and 11-year-olds.
Today’s topic is the water cycle, and as the woman explains the five phases (precipitation, evaporation, percolation, transpiration and condensation), the video is projected to a large screen to provide emphasis.
Her passion is clearly evident, from her soothing delivery to her interaction with the students.
Then again, Beth Bauer Grace always had an ability to captivate an audience – she is just more accustomed to doing it with golf clubs.
When professional golf no longer fulfilled Bauer Grace, the 1997 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, two-time USA Curtis Cup player and 2002 LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year decided near the end of 2007 to undergo a career transformation.
The now 31-year-old Bauer Grace – she got married this past November – did a U-turn by going back to school … literally.
On Jan. 10, Bauer Grace began a 12-week student-teaching internship at Lake St. George Elementary under the supervision of Dawn McCoy. Next month, she expects to earn her education degree from the University of Phoenix, and she hopes to secure a full-time teaching position this fall.
By then, the LPGA Tour will be firmly in her rear-view mirror.
“She has a passion for teaching,” said McCoy, a 20-year veteran of the profession, the last 16 in Pinellas County. “She definitely wants to do this. You can see how she prepares and interacts with the kids.”
Of course, many might question why anyone would go from the glamour of professional golf to teaching, a vocation constantly under scrutiny from parents, administrators and cash-strapped school systems.
When it comes to compensation, teachers earn significantly less than successful tour golfers. Even veteran teacher McCoy’s golf-crazy husband had raised eyebrows.
For Bauer Grace, it was simply lifestyle over economics.
While golf played an enormous role in her personal development, six years on the professional circuit – the last five on the LPGA Tour – had created voids. She wanted to settle down, have a family and enjoy things she had missed while traveling 20 to 25 weeks a year.
To sum it up, tour golf wasn’t as serendipitous as it is often portrayed on TV.
“She’s always loved kids,” said Candy Hannemann, a longtime friend and former Duke teammate/roommate who retired from professional golf this year due to injury. “I’m not surprised at all. I think she’ll be great at it.”
Added Bauer Grace: “I just feel this is going to make me happy. And to me that’s worth a million dollars every year.”
Rising To The Top
Few golfers can say they are the best.
Bauer Grace can make the argument that she topped the list at one time. The American Junior Golf Association twice named the Valrico, Fla., native its Player of the Year (1997 and ’98). She won 17 AJGA events, but the pinnacle of her junior career came in July of 1997 outside of Nashville, Tenn.
Bauer Grace and her mother, Chris, were on a summer-long odyssey that included tournaments in nine states. Chris was Bauer Grace’s constant companion after Beth’s father, John, died in 1994 from complications of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare incurable disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system. John had not only been a loving father, he had also been Bauer Grace’s hero and coach.
From her parents, who met on a golf course, Bauer Grace learned golf etiquette and discipline, especially in her practice habits. Before hitting the range, Bauer Grace would be given incentives – usually ice cream – for making a required number of putts or hitting chips close to the hole.
Bauer Grace’s game flourished, and by the summer of 1997 she had become one of the country’s elite juniors. She was clearly a favorite to take the U.S. Girls’ Junior title at the Legends Club of Tennessee (Ironwood Course). Stroke-play qualifying was interrupted four times for lightning and rain and Bauer Grace started slowly before a weather delay seemed to re-energize her focus.
“I think I only played nine holes the first day … and I was not playing well,” she said. “I remember going back to our hotel room and doing my [short-game] drills and putting in the hallway.”
The next day, Bauer Grace put together a record-setting performance, posting 68-66 to take medalist honors by four strokes and establish a 36-hole Girls’ Junior mark of 134 that was not broken until 2001 by Christina Kim (133), and bettered again in 2005 by Taylore Karle (130). Neither of those two players, however, hoisted the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy or received the gold medal for winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
Bauer Grace did. She won six matches, beating three future LPGA Tour winners, including Lorena Ochoa, who became a Hall of Famer and received the 2011 USGA Bob Jones Award. In the semifinals, Bauer Grace eliminated defending champion Dorothy Delasin before beating Candie Kung, 4 and 2, in the 18-hole final. Delasin would win the U.S. Women’s Amateur two years later and Kung would claim the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Later, as a pro, Kung finished as the runner-up by one stroke at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.
“That was one of my pinnacle weeks of my life,” said Bauer Grace. “I had a special feeling about that week. There were a lot of good players that I had to take down along the way. I guess I knew something was clicking. I was almost unconscious. When they say you are in the zone, I was in the zone.”
|Beth Bauer Grace Career Golf Highlights
|1997 U.S. Girls' Junior champion
Won 17 American Junior Golf Assoc. titles
2-Time AJGA Player of the Year (1997 and 1998)
2-Time USA Curtis Cup Participant (1998 and 2000)
2-Time All-American At Duke University
Helped Duke Win 1999 NCAA Division I Title
2001 Futures Tour Player of Year, Rookie of Year
2002 LPGA Tour Player of Year
T-8 2002 Women's British Open
T-18 2002 U.S. Women's Open
Second At 2002 Jamie Farr Kroger Classic
That success led to a scholarship to Duke University and selection to the 1998 USA Curtis Cup Team, where she posted a singles win in the victory at the Minikahda Club in Minneapolis. Two years later, Bauer Grace was again chosen for the Curtis Cup Team, this time traveling to Ganton in England for another American triumph. She went 2-0-0 in singles, including a 1-up victory over Rebecca Hudson on the final day of the Match that sealed a successful USA defense.
“They were both different,” said Bauer Grace of the two Curtis Cups. “In 1998, it was a new experience. Golf is so individual and I enjoyed the team thing. I remember the complete feeling of euphoria from winning.
“Over in England, it was just [us being] total underdogs. The crowds were crazy. I remember singing American songs on the way to the course in the team van and stuff. We were just singing away.”
A year earlier, Bauer Grace had helped Duke win the NCAA Division I Championship, the first national title for any women’s program at the Durham, N.C., university.
“There was always something very professional about Beth,” said Duke coach Dan Brooks. “She was always the one to go back to the practice area after we finished a qualifier. She did those things that you see professionals do.”
During her brief two-year Duke career, Bauer Grace was a two-time All-American and a two-time Academic All-American.
“She was awesome,” said 1998 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Leigh Anne Creavy (nee Hardin), who entered Duke the fall after Bauer Grace left, but competed many times against the Floridian. “She dominated. And she was so smart on the golf course. She would never beat herself. Her course management was awesome.”
Hannemann saw the same attributes.
“She just had a great sense of how to play the game,” said the Brazil native who first met Bauer Grace at a junior tournament when they were both 11 years-old. “Her mind was so good. Her short game was always what stood out. [But] she was so good under pressure. Even if she got into a bad situation, she was able to get out of it.”
By the summer of 2000, Bauer Grace had reached an important crossroads. Two years at Duke had provided a wonderful educational opportunity, both athletically and academically.
In fact, Bauer Grace loved school. “I am a nerd, pretty much,” she admitted.
Hannemann called her a bookworm.
Yet keeping pace in the highly charged academic environment at Duke was challenging. Trying to focus 100 percent on the rigors of golf and school created conflicts; Bauer Grace isn’t the type to do things halfway.
Hannemann recalled that Duke offered so many “great people … who were good at other things. Everybody was good at something.”
Bauer Grace knew she was extremely gifted in golf and felt the timing was right to make a break.
With Madison Avenue looks and immense talent, she had all the intangibles for major success. So after the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she had her best-ever showing (third round, losing to eventual champ and college rival Marcy Newton from the University of North Carolina) , Bauer Grace turned pro.
Few questioned the decision. Brooks gave his blessing. So did her mom. Teammates certainly understood her overwhelming pro potential.
“Everybody thought she would do really well,” said Hannemann, who was recruited by Bauer Grace to Duke and won two national titles with the Blue Devils (1999 and 2001).
Bauer Grace acknowledged that Duke made her more independent and prepared to take this major step.
“Desire, work ethic and passion were the things that separated her,” said Brooks, adding that he wants his players to be well-rounded. “I don’t need you to be one thing or the other. I have had both. [Current LPGA Tour player] Brittany Lang left after two years, too … and she did OK academically. I always think people should get their degree. And it’s not for the team, but it’s just smart. The money just isn’t good enough out there. The life isn’t what you might think it is.”
Rise and Fall
Almost immediately, things fell into place for Bauer Grace. She received several lucrative endorsements and won four times on the Duramed Futures Tour in 2001, earning that circuit’s Player of the Year award. By finishing among the top three on the money list, she automatically bypassed Q-School and graduated to the LPGA Tour for the 2002 season.
On the range at the Turtle Bay Resort in preparation for the first LPGA event of 2002, it suddenly hit Bauer Grace where she was. Idols Juli Inkster and Meg Mallon were practicing nearby and her first thought was Don’t shank your first shot!
The big stage was nothing new. She had played in three U.S. Women’s Opens as an amateur, although she missed the cut each time. But now she was competing with more than a hundred talented women for the same checks and attention.
Bauer Grace lived up to the hype and enjoyed a outstanding rookie season. Even though her first season didn’t include a win, she made 24 of 27 cuts, had six top 10s and a runner-up showing at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic in Toledo, Ohio. At the Weetabix British Women’s Open, she was paired with eventual winner Karrie Webb on the weekend, and if not for a disastrous triple-bogey 8, she might have contended for the title. She settled for a share of eighth.
By season’s end, Bauer Grace had amassed $480,909 in winnings (18th on money list) and earned the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year trophy by 155 points over Natalie Gulbis. She had enough to buy a house in Odessa, Fla., and her Q-Rating could not have been any higher.
But by 2003, Bauer Grace had lost her caddie, her mom was no longer traveling regularly and suddenly her confidence evaporated. She still made 16 of 24 cuts, but had just one top 10. She plummeted to No. 65 on the money list ($121,218).
It got precipitously worse in the ensuing years. In 2004, she finished 100th on the money list, then spiraled to 110th in 2005, 142nd in 2006 and finally a pedestrian 176th in 2007 when she played just four events.
Outwardly, she was the same: personable and gregarious with fans and fellow players. Deep down, the misery was snowballing into an avalanche.
Bauer Grace said she can’t point to one specific moment, but in 2007, she sought out the one person who she trusted most: her mother.
“I knew I couldn’t continue living this life,” Bauer Grace said. “I wanted to be a little bit more normal. I wanted a future life with somebody. I wanted to be at home. I wanted something more than just traveling and being alone on the road.”
Added Brooks: “Beth Bauer, being the quality person she is, the smart person she is and the talented person she is, and the passionate player that she is; people need to pay attention to players that are turning pro early. They need to pay a little attention to Beth Bauer and think a little bit how somebody that talented and that passionate – for whatever reason – didn’t have a long-term career out there. They should realize it’s possible and maybe it would be a good idea to get your [college] degree.”
Back To School
A new Bauer Grace emerged in 2008. The clubs were collecting dust in the garage and she was reading books instead of greens. Enrolled in online courses at the University of Phoenix, Bauer Grace was still unsure about a career path, but things slowly fell into place.
“I’ve always liked children and I always liked playing the teacher, even as a child,” said Bauer Grace.
Calls to local schools enabled Bauer Grace to observe a classroom situation.
The epiphany came when visiting a kindergarten class at Mary Bryant Elementary down the street from her home.
“I called my mother and I was beaming,” said Bauer Grace. “I was so excited. I knew in my heart this is something I can do and I can do it well.”
Friends, even those still on tour, were supportive.
Nevertheless, Bauer Grace needed a revenue stream. A friend suggested working at Heritage Harbor Golf Course in Lutz as a beverage-cart girl.
It didn’t take long for customers to recognize that a former LPGA Tour player and local junior/amateur legend was serving drinks.
One day, Andy Grace and his buddies were playing when one of the men thought Bauer Grace looked familiar. Future visits led to conversations. The group sometimes invited her to hit a few shots for kicks. Bauer Grace might have been retired, but her game was still sharp.
“My friends just wanted to meet her and play golf with her,” said Andy. “A lot of them like women players because their swings are smoother. That’s what [Beth] has. She just doesn’t shoot over par and it’s fun to watch.”
The swing wasn’t the only attraction for Andy, an Ohio native who is a client executive for Diebold (a security systems and services firm) throughout Florida. It took four months, but he finally mustered the courage to ask Beth on a golf date.
It was love at first swing.
Andy proposed on the famous island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, popping the question after both successfully found the green and made pars. Andy explained his plans to the two people playing with them that day, and everything went according to plan.
This past November, the two married at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando. Beth and Beth’s mom enjoyed the first dance to “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler in memory of her dad. “It was a very emotional day for my mom,” Beth said.
Bauer Grace’s bio photo on her Facebook page is an image of Andy, in his tuxedo, and Beth in her wedding gown. The two are smiling and holding a golf club.
Though matrimony delayed Bauer Grace’s teaching internship and graduation date by a semester,it didn’t dampen her happiness or progress.
“I am blessed,” said Bauer Grace, who hasn’t ruled out regaining her amateur status and competing again. “It’s the same thing as when my father passed away. There is a reason why it happened. Sometimes you can’t question it. It’s the same thing now.
“I had turned into something that I didn’t recognize. I’m a happy-go-lucky person. I think I have a lot to give. I was at a point [during the latter part of my LPGA Tour career] where I didn’t feel like myself. That’s not going to show well on the course. It’s not going to show well toward my fans, my family. Nobody. It wasn’t worth it anymore.”
Educating children is a lot like tournament golf. There is a lot of preparation, patience and adversity. Bauer Grace has the demeanor and personality to handle any situation.
And she has never worked as hard as she has the last two months.
Her rewards are priceless.
“I feel I can be creative and help mold and guide them,” said Bauer Grace of working with grammar-school children. “A lot of times as a teacher, you are the only one who can reach them.”
Information about Bauer Grace’s past vocation has slowly reached faculty members at Lake St. George Elementary. During an All-Pro Dads program at the school, Bauer Grace’s golf credentials were chronicled by the emcee. Jaws dropped, mainly those of the dads. The interest of one student became so piqued that he asked questions of Bauer Grace for three consecutive days.
She has also used her golf connections to assist the school financially, setting up a fund-raising tournament at an area course in the spring. When the PGA Tour’s Transitions Championship was held in mid-March, Bauer Grace procured a few items for an auction.
But the real passion comes inside Dawn McCoy’s fifth-grade classroom.
Bauer Grace’s face brightens as she works with a small group in a corner. The exercise is measuring weight. Each student has several objects before them: a golf ball (not a shock considering the teacher’s background), tennis ball, a quarter, a die and a poker chip. Bauer Grace asks each student to write in descending order the weight of the objects. Then the students put each item on a digital scale. Bauer Grace tells the children to record the measurements.
“Are you surprised by the results?” she asks in a warm tone. “Was your order correct?”
Most of the kids seem shocked that the tennis ball was the heaviest. “I was even surprised by that,” she said.
Two more groups repeat the exercise.
McCoy has given Bauer Grace complete autonomy to direct the plan. With each passing week, she is more impressed with Bauer Grace’s preparation and ability to relate the required material. The process evolved from a few math and social studies lesson plans and morphed into the two working in tandem as a team.
“She’s not shy,” said McCoy. “She comes right in and starts talking to [the students]. They’ve made her feel comfortable. She respects them and they show her the same.”
Of course, the real test will come this summer when Bauer Grace hits the job market. Budget cuts have made positions less and less plentiful, but McCoy said that two Lake St. George first-grade teachers are retiring in May.
She could certainly see Bauer Grace becoming part of the full-time faculty. Bauer Grace hinted that she’d love to work at the school.
It definitely appears that, whether at Lake St. George or not, she has found the center of the fairway.
David Shefter is a senior writer/content manager for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.