Legendary LSU women’s golf coach Karen Bahnsen is a member of the 2023 LSU Athletics Hall of Fame induction class and will be formally enshrined on Friday, September 22, at the Manship Theater in downtown Baton Rouge.
The other members of the 2023 class are 18-time track and field All-American and football wide receiver Al Coffee; three-time women’s tennis All-American and SEC Player of the Year Megan Falcon; NCAA discus and shot put champion Danyel Mitchell; volleyball All-American Nyla Shepherd Moore; Jim Hawthorne, the “Voice of the Tigers” for over 30 years; and Dr. Sam Nader, who worked as LSU Football’s recruiting director and supervisor of operations during a brilliant 46-year career.
Without Karen Bahnsen, the LSU Women’s Golf program would never have gotten its start in 1979. No seriously, Bahnsen was the very first recruit in program history that year.
After playing four years with the Tigers, Bahnsen graduated from LSU in 1984 and was named the program’s head coach prior to the 1984-85 season. From there, the success came quickly as she had the No. 1 player in the country, five team titles, and a top NCAA Championship finish after just her second year at the helm.
Bahnsen’s accolades speak for themselves, but it never hurts to list them. Over her 34 years as head coach, she produced 23 All-Americans, 46 All-SEC players, 41 team tournament titles and 45 individual tournament titles. In 1992, she guided the Tigers to an SEC Championship.
Over 20 times, the Tigers were in postseason play. Seven times her teams finished in the NCAA Top 10, including impressive third-place finishes in 2011 and 2012. She coached the NCAA individual champion in 2011 as freshman Austin Ernst posted a six-under 66 to capture the title and start the honors for a player who has gone on to win three times on the LPGA Tour.
As impressive as her numbers on the course were, Bahnsen prided herself on the off-the-course numbers of 99 SEC Academic Honor Roll Selections and 33 Women’s Golf Coaches Association Academic Scholars.
For her accomplishments, she was fittingly named to the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008, and in 2015, she was inducted into her hometown Mobile, Ala., Sports Hall of Fame. She was also recently inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
When Bahnsen eventually retired as a Tiger in 2018, it was not the monumental wins or numerous accolades that she said she would miss the most, it was her golfers.
“Coaching and mentoring these young women is one of the great honors of my life, and this decision is one of the most difficult,” said Bahnsen. “I have been a part of this program since it began. The young women who have played for me are my family. I will miss being with them on a daily basis.”
Her success on the course was unmatched, but Bahnsen would be the first to say it was bigger than golf for her. She always prioritized her role as a mentor for student-athletes and helped to grow the game of women’s golf.
“Being the golf coach has given me the opportunity to help shape the lives of young women,” said Bahnsen. “I have been able to teach them that they can be successful as a woman in whatever career they desire. It’s what motivated me to coach for 34 years.”
Bahnsen wanted to be a role model for her players. No matter what was happening in life, she always wanted to give her all for the purple and gold each and every day. Out of everything she accomplished, the relationships she formed with her players always meant the most to her.
“What means the most are the relationships that I had with my players over the years,” Bahnsen said. “I always wanted to help them be their best selves, both on and off the golf course.
“As in life, I wasn’t always perfect, but I gave LSU and our team my heart and soul and wanted just to be there for my players and be a role model for them. I always said, ‘I want to show them that you can be successful as a woman, as a mother, wife and in your profession.’ It’s not always easy!”
Bahnsen helped to build the LSU Women’s Golf program into the national contender it is today. She molded young players into women and helped propel collegiate golf into a new era. The pride and tradition of LSU is one of a kind and would not be what it is today without Karen Bahnsen.
Through it all, she never lost sight of her biggest goal: seeing the LSU program continue to rise to the top while always remembering its humble beginnings.
“I love seeing my former players’ daughters on the LSU team,” Bahnsen said. “It shows that they (my former players) had a great experience here at LSU and want their child to have the same opportunities that they had to succeed in life and in golf.
“I feel great that the program is continuing to grow with Garrett (Runion) and Alexis (Rather) as the coaches. They too are products of LSU, and I am proud of the LSU legacy I have been a part of and continue to see grow.”
Now, Bahnsen will forever be a part of the legacy she helped create as a member of the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame.