Once, when her two older brothers forced her to retrieve her own wayward tee shots from a Florida water hazard, she was nipped by an alligator. (When her mother disputes this, saying she was merely brushed by the reptile, she will stretch out a tanned, Viking leg and show off the scar.) Those rambunctious brothers also once accidentally broke a bone in her left hand (she points out the spot), and another time, during some innocent roughhousing, one of them knocked out her two front teeth. The survivor of those childhood tribulations is Laura Zonetta Baugh, a sweet 16 Scandinavian Sioux (well, one of her great-grandmothers was [1/32] Indian) who goes steady with golf, the youngest and surely the prettiest girl ever to win the U.S. Women's Amateur golf championship, which she did last month.
Laura is used to being a wonder child. She was 14 when she won the Los Angeles Women's Amateur by four strokes. At 15, she won it again, finishing eight strokes ahead of the California state amateur champ. That same year she won the championship of her home town, Long Beach, on her second try.
This summer, at 16, she won three tournaments, lost the Girls Western on the last hole and in a quarterfinal match in the U.S. Girls' Junior Championships at Augusta she lost to three-time winner Hollis Stacy in a sudden-death playoff (SI, Aug. 23). Then came her signal victory in the Women's Amateur. After qualifying, Laura fought her way through four pressure matches to reach the grueling 36-hole final, in which she beat Beth Barry by taking the lead on the 33rd hole and halving the last three.
"I never thought she was that good," says California pro George Lake, "but now I'd say she's a women's Ben Hogan. She's absolutely unperturbable!"
September 5, 1971
Long Beach, which already had given her the key to the city, immediately launched plans for a testimonial banquet aboard the Queen Mary, a local boat. Despite all this Laura is only the fourth best golfer in her remarkable family. Her father, Hale Baugh Jr., is a West Point graduate who competed in the pentathlon in the 1948 Olympics, flew bombers in the Korean war and earned an engineering degree and a doctorate in law; a good player, he is the only coach Laura has ever had. Brother Hale III, 23, an accountant in Dallas, attended Florida and North Texas State on golf scholarships and was Florida state junior champion. Brother Beau Baugh, 19, was No. 1 man on the junior college national championship team last year.
Laura was born in Gainesville, Fla. on May 31, 1955, the smidgen of Sioux blood and the unusual middle name coming from her paternal great-grandmother. She took her first swings at three, played in the National Pee Wee Tournament at six, won her age-group championship in the Pee Wee at seven and has been collecting trophies ever since. Five times she won red blazers for Pee Wee titles, once winning by 36 strokes, once by 41. When her parents were divorced three years ago, Laura and her mother moved from Florida to Long Beach, the city that produced the golfing Bauer sisters.
At Wilson High, where she is starting her junior year, Laura is a near straight-A student. Sometimes she gets up at four a.m. to complete her homework before her first class so that the material will be fresh in her mind. Laura also wanted to play on Wilson High's varsity golf team, but the California Interscholastic Federation forbade it, no doubt feeling that coeds should stick to pompon shaking.
"I was a little hurt," she says. "The rule seems silly and outdated. Our schools deserve the best representation possible in any kind of competition."
"Who wouldn't want someone with a four handicap?" says Doc Curé, the Wilson coach. "She probably would be No. 3 on my varsity."
That handicap has since come down to two, but Laura has given up any thoughts of earning a high school letter. She will continue to leave her last class promptly at 1:48 and hurry across the street to the 18-hole municipal course at Recreation Park, where she practices or plays four hours a day, usually with male competitors whose golf is of the same high caliber as her own.
Laura's mother, who gets out and jogs with her daughter to keep in shape, says that sometimes in the winter the sun has set when Laura gets to the 17th and 18th holes, but Mrs. Baugh adds with a smile that she is always on hand to chaperone Laura's after-dark golf. If Laura feels any resentment toward her mother's presence she does not show it.
"All I need to play golf is my clubs and my mom," she says.
Laura often plays with the assistant pro and two other good men golfers, who used to spot her two strokes a side. Not anymore. The foursome has a little ritual: whoever wins a hole gets to pick the tee—ladies', men's, championship—on the next one. When Laura is the winner she picks the championship tee.
"I get more shots into the game that way," she says. "More practice time."
"I never see her without a club in her hand," marvels Ernest deTournillon, the starter. "You mention golf to her, you mention the world."