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Leap Of Faith Beth Bauer hopes that changes in her personal life will lead to the same kind of second-half surge that made her the 2002 rookie of the year


It is Beth Bauer's 23rd birthday, and she's clearly enjoying the
moment. Bouncing toward the scorer's tent after the third round
of the LPGA's season-opening Welch's/Fry's Championship, her arms
sway in unison with her long, golden ponytail. After signing for
a career-low 62, Bauer leaves the tent and greets fans with
slices of her birthday cake, a present from her caddie, Doug
Matteson. ¶ There is a Betty Crocker sweetness to Bauer, whose
sincerity and approachability have made her popular with both her
LPGA peers and the fans--even those who don't get a slice of
cake. But behind that warm smile is a steely determination to
succeed, and she will allow neither blood nor love to get in
the way. After a lukewarm start during her rookie season last
year, Bauer told her mother, Chris, that she was no longer
needed as her roommate and full-time traveling companion. Beth
also said goodbye to her boyfriend of eight years, Nationwide
tour player Ryuji Imada. She started fresh with Matteson and
got a new steady, Justin Trombley, an assistant pro at Tampa's
Heritage Harbor Golf Club.

It was a year in which Bauer did a lot of growing up, and she
parlayed her new independence into the LPGA's rookie of the year
award. "I gained so much confidence last year when I started
being on my own," Bauer says. "I'm a better, more mature player
now. I make my own choices, on and off the course. I travel alone
and have a house to myself."

She got such good results, in fact, that she repeated the process
this year after she again got off to a slow start. In the three
months following her birthday, Bauer's driver went stale, and so
did her relationship with her caddie. She fired Matteson after
the first round of the Corning Classic, in May, and replaced him
with Rachel Teske's husband, Dean, who has caddied on a part-time
basis for years. In March, Bauer ended her long-distance
relationship with Trombley and started dating Shaun Clews, an
Australian who loops for Hee-Won Han. "I'm lucky to have a
boyfriend out here," Bauer says. "I've never really had anybody
who I could see every day, and [Clews] has really changed my
world this year."

With her personal and professional relationships once again in
order, Bauer has quieted the talk that she was suffering from a
sophomore jinx. Two weeks ago she shot a final-round 65 at the
Giant Eagle LPGA Classic and had her first top 10 finish of the
year. One reason Bauer didn't panic after missing the cut at five
of her first 10 tournaments is that she learned in 2002 how
quickly a standout season can come together. Locked in a heated
battle with Natalie Gulbis for the rookie award midway through
last year, Bauer blew away her flashier competitor with a strong
second half, turning in five of her six top 10s, including a
second at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic. It was the sixth
straight season in which Bauer had won a significant piece of
hardware: In 1997 and '98 she was the American Junior Golf
Association player of the year; during her two years at Duke she
twice won the Atlantic Coast Conference individual title; and in
2001 she was the Futures tour player of the year. As for adding
to her streak in '03, Bauer says, "One [LPGA] win would be better
than all those player of the year titles combined."

Heartbreak and headaches behind her, a dazzling future awaiting,
Bauer continues to step out on her own. During the four-month
off-season she hired a new swing coach, Mike McGetrick, and a
personal trainer from Gold's Gym in Tampa, where she now resides.
"I expect her to win at least a couple of times this year," says
McGetrick, who also works with Pat Hurst, Juli Inkster and Meg
Mallon. "Beth reminds me of Juli in that she is supercompetitive
and really enjoys what she's doing."

But it's LPGA superstar Annika Sorenstam whom Bauer hopes to
rival someday. In her workout room at home, Bauer has Sorenstam's
2002 statistics thumbtacked next to her own. Highlighted in green
are Sorenstam's driving distance, top 10 finishes and greens in
regulation, all aspects of the game in which Bauer is determined
to improve. A straight-hitting, steady player with an imaginative
short game, Bauer had 15 top 20 finishes last year, a testament
to her consistency. Now she's getting her game--and body--in
shape to attack courses more aggressively. She lifts weights
regularly and runs sprints or jumps rope. "Annika was 15 yards
longer [than me] last year," says Bauer. "I can only squat 150
pounds. I heard Annika does 300. My trainer told me that's crazy
for a woman."

Bauer knows she can't have the emaciated figure of a fashion
model and still be competitive. "It used to be important to me to
be skinny, but you can't weigh 100 pounds in this sport," says
the 5'8" 135-pound Bauer. "I gave up that ideal a year ago when I
saw how strong Annika got." A framed picture of a golf course
hangs beneath Sorenstam's stats. The message printed on it reads:
success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.

"What I see in Beth is a resolve to fulfill the dreams her dad
had for her," says 17-year LPGA veteran Kim Williams. "It's the
driving force for her and a big part of why she pushes herself so

John Bauer died in August 1994 at the age of 41 of Guillain-Barre
syndrome, an inflammation of the central nervous system, three
weeks after discovering he had the disease. He was a club pro in
Tampa and is described by a former boss, Bob Evans, as being
"mild-mannered and soft-spoken" and a person who "wouldn't stand
out in a crowd if he weren't such a great-looking specimen."

The same could be said of Beth, who was exceptionally close to
her father. She grew up with three older half-siblings--Mark, 31,
Jeff, 28, and Jill, 25--from Chris's previous marriage, but she
was John's darling. He spent long hours on the range with Beth
and played practice rounds with her when she was just a kid,
thrilled to be allowed to drive the golf cart. "John had the
talent to go to the PGA Tour," says Frank Reynolds, the head pro
at Eagles Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Beth's home course,
"but he gave it up to raise a family. His dream was passed on to
Beth. He dedicated his life to her."

After John's death, Beth leaned heavily on her mother for
support. Chris made all their travel arrangements, chauffeured
Beth in rental cars and ritually made Beth's favorite
dinner--meat loaf with a side of popcorn--as Beth dominated the
junior circuit, winning 17 times in six years. When Beth accepted
a scholarship to go to Duke in 1998, Chris moved to North
Carolina to be near her. When Beth left school after two years to
turn pro, the two moved back to Tampa, but after Beth failed to
earn her LPGA card at the 2000 Q school, Chris resumed her
traveling-secretary duties on the Futures tour the following
year. Even when Beth and her longtime boyfriend, Imada, bought a
two-bedroom condo together in November 2001, the couple shared
one bedroom while Chris slept in the other.

Bauer thought she was happy, but before long she realized the
difficulty of dating another fledgling tour pro who was
crisscrossing the globe chasing his own dream. "We had a young
love, but we grew apart," she says. "The relationship weighed on
me, and it wasn't making me happy."

Divorcing herself from her mother was more complicated. "She's
the closest person in my life, but...." Bauer pauses and starts
over. "It was a mutual decision. Any kind of traveling full time
can wear on a relationship. We both needed a little separation.
My mom had a hard time not traveling with me."

Chris, 49, sees it differently. "I'm a terrible flier," she says.
"I get panic attacks on planes. And it was time for me to have a
life again. I wasn't going to send my baby out there alone, but
she's a young woman now. She was brought up to do things on her

Though Chris is no longer Beth's roadie, she is still a part of
her daughter's daily life. They chat on the phone every evening.
Last November, Chris pinch-hit at the closing on Beth's new
three-bedroom house while Beth was away at the season-ending ADT
Championship. "When Beth came home for the first time, everything
was arranged, including silverware in the drawers and groceries
stocked in the fridge," says Chris, who is in the process of
buying out Imada's share of the two-bedroom condo. (Chris and
Imada remain friends, though Imada's contact with his
ex-girlfriend is limited.)

Beth lives along the 1st fairway at the Eagles, only minutes down
the road from Chris. Recently the first-time homeowner gave a
tour of her crib, which was purchased with some of the $481,000
she made on tour last year, when she finished 18th on the money
list. She immediately apologized for the fake plants and the
overpowering scent of potpourri. "That's my mom's idea," she
said. The living room, decorated lavishly with bronze ornaments
and giant ceramic urns, smacks of mom too. Bauer says, however,
that the cherry-oak bed frames and the Ethan Allen dining room
set are her own choices. "I depended a lot on my mom and Ryuji
for everything," she said, "but I'm not as dependent on people

She squints at her white-tiled floor, bends down, picks up a
piece of lint and flicks it into the kitchen sink. "Yeah," she
says, "I really like being on my own."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER GLORY BOUND Bauer has been labeled a can't-miss talent since 1998, when she tore up the junior circuit.

COLOR PHOTO: ALASTAIR GRANT/AP DRY SPELL Bauer had six top 10 finishes last year, including a tie for eighth in the British Open, but has only one in 2003.


COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES STRONG SHOWING Already a fan favorite, Bauer has added a workout regimen to try to keep up with Annika.

"I gained so much confidence last year when I started being on my
own," says Bauer. "I'm a more mature player

"What I see in Beth is a resolve to fulfill the dreams her dad
had for her," says Williams. "It's the driving force for her."