Before Hollis Stacy, Nancy Lopez and Michelle Wie took the golf world by storm as young phenoms, there were the Bauer sisters – Alice and Marlene, of Eureka, S.D.
Marlene, who became the better known of the two, was born about 6½ years after big sister Alice, on Feb. 16, 1934. According to a 2002 Sports Illustrated story, their father, Dave Bauer, fell in love with golf at age 30 and leased the nine-hole course in Eureka and ran it as his business. He put a cut-down club in Marlene's hands when she was 3 years old.
“He tried to get Alice started, but she was about 10 and already had other interests,” Marlene (Bauer) Hagge recalled in that 2002 story. “People would come to the course and see me hitting balls. I was getting so much attention that my sister decided that maybe golf wasn’t such a bad thing.”
Alice won the South Dakota Women’s Amateur title at age 14, and soon thereafter, the daughters were taking part in golf exhibitions around the country. The family moved to Long Beach, Calif., and at age 10, Marlene captured the Long Beach Boys Junior Championship. At 13, she entered the 1947 Los Angeles Women’s City Championship at Griffith Park Golf Course, where the scorecard noted that children under 14 were not allowed on the course. After Marlene won the event, she was pictured in Life magazine, working on her putting as her dolls watched.
Later that year, Marlene not only made the cut in the U.S. Women’s Open at Prince George’s Country Club in Landover, Md., she finished in a tie for sixth place. Though she was 20 strokes behind winner Louise Suggs, no one else got any closer than 14 strokes, either. It was the second U.S. Women’s Open, although the USGA would not take over conducting the championship until 1953.
Two years later, in 1949 at age 15, Marlene captured the inaugural U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, defeating Barbara Bruning, 2 up, at Philadelphia Country Club. A few weeks later at nearby Merion Golf Club, she defeated legendary six-time champion Glenna Collett Vare en route to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. At year’s end, she was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
One year later, the sisters were among the 13 founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and they were among the top drawing cards as the fledgling tour traversed the country. Their likenesses even made it onto Wheaties cereal boxes. Marlene was just 16 when she joined the LPGA, having turned professional two weeks before her 16th birthday.
As Patty Berg later said of the Bauers, “They were cute, they were fun, and the people liked them. Everybody wanted to see Babe [Didrikson Zaharias] and the Bauer sisters.”
“We used to have to set our own pin placements and our own hazard stakes,” Hagge recalled of those early days of the LPGA in a 2016 interview. “We made no money, but we loved what we were doing and we knew that we were doing something important.”
Alice was only 5-foot-1 (one inch shorter than her younger sister) and tried to make up for her lack of stature with a mighty swing. “She had the longest swing in the history of golf,” said fellow LPGA founder Marilynn Smith years later of Alice. “Her backswing made John Daly’s look short.”
Alice finished 14th on the LPGA Tour money list in 1956, but she never won an event before becoming a part-time player to raise a family. Her closest call was a playoff loss to Smith, and her best finish in a major was fourth place in the 1958 U.S. Women’s Open. Alice Bauer died in 2002 at age 74 of colon cancer in Palm Desert, Calif.
Marlene snagged her first professional win in the 1952 Sarasota Open, and in 1956, she enjoyed her best season. She captured eight events, finished runner-up in nine others, and made that year’s LPGA Championship her first and only major title, defeating Berg in a playoff at Forest Lake Country Club, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Between 1952 and 1972, Hagge recorded 26 LPGA Tour victories, and she was voted into the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame in 2002, through the veterans category. Now 85, she lives in La Quinta, Calif.
Among her career highlights:
- She set the nine-hole scoring record of 29 in 1971 at the Buick Open in Columbus, Ohio. The record stood for 13 years before Pat Bradley and Mary Beth Zimmerman recorded 28s in 1984.
- Hagge is the second-youngest player in LPGA history to win 10 titles, behind Nancy Lopez. She won her 10th, the 1956 Denver Open, at 22 years, 6 months and 10 days old.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for me, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Hagge in 2016, before adding, “I would ask to have sunk a couple more putts.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.