By Ron Sirak
Marlene Bauer was only 16 years old when she and a dozen other women, including her big sister Alice, founded the LPGA in 1950. But as Marlene Hagge-Vossler, she went on to win 26 times and was one of the public relations faces of the nascent Tour throughout a remarkable 40-year career.
Hagge-Vossler was a teen sensation well before they were commonplace in women’s golf. Her father, Dave, a one-time touring pro who became a teaching pro and moved to Long Beach, Calif. to run a driving range, put on travelling exhibitions in the mid-1940s billing his girls as “The Bauer Sisters.” They were well known before the LPGA even existed.
Marlene, who died in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on May 16 at the age of 89, and her sister Alice, who died in 2002, were the first Glamour Girls of the LPGA, as the newspapers called them back then. Their stunning looks were cleverly marketed by their agent Fred Corcoran, the showman who was also the Tour’s director as well as manager of Babe Zaharias, another marketing treasure.
Marlene started golf at age 3 and at age 10 won the Long Beach City Boys Junior. In 1947, at 13, she won the Western and National Junior Championships, the Los Angeles Women’s City Championship, the Palm Springs Women’s Championship, Northern California Open and became the youngest player to make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing eighth.
In 1949, at 15, she became the youngest named Female Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press after winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and the WWGA Junior.
Hagge-Vossler’s first LPGA victory was the 1952 Sarasota Open. In 1956, she had one of the best year’s in Tour history, leading with eight wins, finishing second nine other times and topping the money list with a record $20,235. She also set scoring records for 36, 54 and 72 holes as well as picking up a major at the LPGA Championship, now the KPMG Women’s PGA.
The 1957 LPGA media guide, which featured Hagge on the cover, said: “This brilliant golf prodigy set officials back on their heels, when at the age of 13 she won the Los Angeles Women’s Golf Championship on a course where the sign stated ‘Children Under 14 Are Not Allowed.’”
Hagge-Vossler never let age or gender limit her goals, in part because the idea never entered her mind. She viewed herself simply as a golfer trying to win.
“There were not any junior programs when I was growing up, and girls generally were not very athletic at that time, so I played my golf with men or with older boys on golf teams,” she told Liz Kahn for her book on the LPGA.
“When we both turned professional in 1950, I was a month short of 17 and the youngest by far on Tour,” Hagge-Vossler said. “My dad had always taught us to take things in stride and not to get things out of the proper perspective. He gave us a pretty good set of values, and we were never carried away with all the publicity.”
And Hagge-Vossler was often in the public eye, something Corcoran made certain was the case. It was just one of many ways Marlene worked to better the LPGA. She was treasurer then vice president of the Tour as well as being on both the tournament and pairings committees.
Still, she had a life outside of golf. She married Bob Hagge in 1955, shortly after he was divorced from Alice. Marlene and Bob divorced in 1964 and she was married to former PGA Tour pro Ernie Vossler from 1995 until his death in 2013.
“The only reason I was able to be out on tour and remain sane for more than 40 years is because golf has never been number one,” Hagge-Vossler said. “If I’d eaten, drank and slept golf I’d be a burned-out shell. I like to cook, I like to sew and do all the things normal people do.”
Marlene was a pioneer for both her gender and her age group without ever really knowing it. She just went out, played golf, won and, in doing so, knocked down barriers.
“When I won the L.A. City Women’s championship in 1947 when I was 13, on the back of the score card it said, ‘No children under 14 are permitted on the course,’” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1987, “When I won the Long Beach boys’ championship, I was the only girl, so they didn’t think anything about it. They didn’t fear me.”
That was also the tournament where she learned that success came at a price.
“In the final, I played a 15-year-old, Irving Cooper, who was later a pro,” Hagge said. “I had a crush on him. After I beat him he never spoke to me again. It was sometime later I learned: A girl wasn’t supposed to beat a boy.”
Like Jan Stephenson a couple of decades later, Hagge-Vossler was able to pull off being billed as the Glamour Girl for one simple reason – she won. Like Stephenson, she was not just another pretty face – she was a champion. In 2002, Marlene entered the World Golf Hall of Fame and Jan joined her in 2019.
“Looking back over my career, I will always wish that I had won the [U.S. Women’s] Open,” Hagge-Vossler said. “But I very rarely look back.”
But when the rest of us look back on Marlene Hagge-Vossler’s career we see the magnitude of her impact. As a Founder, a champion and tireless promoter of the LPGA, she was truly one of the game’s faces during golf’s period of its greatest growth.