The Youngest LPGA Founder
Marlene Hagge-Vossler was one of the founding members of the LPGA Tour at the age of 16 in 1950 and collected 26 victories in her career, including her only major title at the LPGA Championship in 1956.
Marlene, who lived in Rancho Mirage, passed away on May 16 at the age of 89, after her older sister, Alice, another early LPGA Tour star, died in 2002.
“There were not any junior programs when I was growing up, and girls generally weren’t very athletic at that time, so I played my golf with men or with older boys on golf teams,” Marlene told Liz Kahn for her book on the LPGA Tour.
“When my sister and I went professional in 1950, I was a month short of 17 and the youngest by far on Tour,” Marlene 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.”
Marlene and her father, Dave Bauer, a one-time touring pro who became a teaching pro and moved to Long Beach to run a driving range, put on traveling exhibitions in the mid-1940s and billed his girls as “The Bauer Sisters” and they were well-known before the LPGA even existed.
The Bauer sisters were the first glamour girls of the LPGA Tour. Their stunning looks were cleverly marketed by their agent Fred Corcoran, the showman who was also the LPGA Tour’s director as well as manager of Babe Zaharias, another marketing treasure.
Marlene started playing golf at age three and at age ten 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 athlete named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press after winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and the WWGA Junior.
Her first LPGA Tour victory came at the Sarasota Open in 1952. Four years later, 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 victory at the LPGA Championship, now the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
The 1957 LPGA media guide, which featured Marlene 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.’”
She 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. Still, she had a life outside of golf. Marlene married Bob Hagge in 1955, and they divorced in 1964. She went on to marry former PGA Tour pro Ernie Vossler from 1995.
“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,” Marlene 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.”
“When I won the L.A. City Women’s championship in 1947 when I was on the back of the score card it said, ‘No children under 14 are permitted on the course.’ 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,” Marlene 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, Marlene 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,” She said. “But I very rarely look back.”
Marlene Hagge-Vossler was a player who helped make the LPGA Tour what it is today.