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Beneath the Glitter
Laura Baugh
May 03, 1999
In her own words, golf's onetime Golden Girl describes her harrowing battle with alcoholism
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May 03, 1999

Beneath The Glitter

In her own words, golf's onetime Golden Girl describes her harrowing battle with alcoholism

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Bobby and I had divorced in 1985, in large part because of his unwillingness to go out and make a living. He had been a working pro golfer when I met him, but after we were married he became content to sit at home and live off my earnings.

After the divorce he went out on the Canadian PGA Tour and in two years made more than $100,000 in tournament income, and in 1987 he came back to me with that proof that he was a changed man. We remarried in 1988, and I soon gave birth to my second child, Eric James (E.J.). As always I swore off alcohol for the duration of the pregnancy. I played golf into my third trimester, through April 1988, then took the rest of the year off after giving birth. I played in 14 events in '89 and 15 in '90, and I had another child, Haley, in April of that year. With Haley's birth, Bobby fell back on the excuse of having to take care of the children and stopped working again.

Just 14 months later I became pregnant again, with my fourth child, Robert. Of course I played golf right through the pregnancy because I had no other choice. We operated on what accountants call "negative cash flow," and that problem would have been exacerbated if I hadn't continued to play. What endorsements I still had were contingent upon my competing on the LPGA tour. If I didn't play, we were in an economic meltdown. I played 16 events in '91 and had my best year ever, with $70,920 in official earnings. But my stroke average started to creep up, while my position on the money list began to slide down.

Robert was born on March 13,1992. While Bobby stayed home, I left my babies to go compete against girls half my age, and the cycle began anew. The void that had been filled by having a baby returned with a vengeance. Rather than deal with my problems, I drank. Within a couple of months I was back on a routine of wine in the morning to help me get out of bed and drinks throughout the day to make my problems go away. In March 1993 I found out I was pregnant yet again. Before my third son, Michael John, was born in November, I played nine events, but my game was falling apart right at the time I needed it most. My best finish was a tie for 38th, and the paltry $3,482 I made on the LPGA tour didn't pay for the diapers and formula I would have to buy.

After Michael's birth I hopped right back into my drinking. Only this time I made up for the nine months I'd been sober, squeezing more alcohol into my body over the 1993 holidays than I normally would in a year. Despite going into detox for the first time, I was drinking again before too long, and I missed the cut in most of the 17 tournaments I entered in '94. There were rumors that my nerves were shot and that I couldn't finish a round without coming unglued. In part the stories were true. If the pace of play was good, I could finish without any problems, but if play became too slow, or if we had a rain delay, I could only play 14 or 15 holes before I started shaking. Other players assumed it was my nerves, but I was going through alcohol withdrawal on the golf course. After a while my goal was to get as far under par as possible through the first 13 holes, then try to hold off the shakes until I could get back to the clubhouse, where a bottle was waiting.

The cycle was again interrupted when I became pregnant with my sixth child, Evita Beau. I didn't touch a drop until she was born, on April 4,1995, but by May I was back drinking as heavily as ever.

That month the family and I loaded up the van and drove to Wilmington, N.C., where I made my debut as a television analyst for the women's NCAA championships. Although I drank throughout the telecast, I did remarkably well in the booth. So well, in fact, that the next week we traveled to East Lansing, Mich., where ESPN had asked me to work its telecast of the Oldsmobile Classic. I had had a TV show in Japan when I was just starting out in pro golf, and I had always loved television. I thought this could be the beginning of a new career. Lots of players my age had adjourned to the broadcast booth, splitting their time between playing and commentating. It seemed like the perfect move for me, too. I still had name recognition with viewers and enough television experience that my presence in the booth made perfect sense for the network. If things worked out, ESPN would sign me up to cover a predetermined number of events for a set fee. I could then plan my playing calendar around the broadcast schedule. All I had to do was impress network producers and executives in Michigan. This was the break I needed.

Of course the added pressure I placed on myself sent my nerves into a frenzy. The prospect of a new job and new career hung in the balance. I needed to be at my best when I climbed into that ESPN booth, so throughout the trip I made Bobby stop every hundred miles or so for quick bathroom breaks. My bladder is small, but not that small. Every truck stop and gas station we visited ended up with a couple of empty wine minibottles in the trash. I didn't overdo it. I drank just enough to stay on an even keel throughout the trip. As my nervousness increased, however, I began to take some medication prescribed for my postpartum depression after Evita's birth. I was supposed to take the medication instead of drinking, but since I thought I knew more about my body than any doctor, I found a happy equilibrium between medication and alcohol.

We spent my 40th birthday on the road to Michigan, Bobby driving while I did my best to keep the shakes to a minimum. When we arrived, Larry Cirillo, the ESPN producer who was in charge of the Oldsmobile Classic, escorted me to the tower where I would be working, and we walked through the procedures for the week. I did my best to put on a bright and happy face. There was a job on the line, and I had to do whatever it took to hold myself together for the week.

Things went remarkably well for the first couple of days. I got to know all the cameramen, producers and technicians, and I meandered around the course, reacquainting myself with the layout. I took notes, talked to players and did my best to prepare myself for two days of live telecast. As far as I could tell, no one knew I was petrified, drinking before and during our rehearsals. On Friday, one day before the live telecast began, the delicate balance I had found between postpartum drugs and alcohol was suddenly upset.

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