If it seems like Karen Bahnsen has been a part of the LSU golf program all her life, you wouldn’t be exactly wrong.
No she wasn’t putting on the LSU campus course as a youngster, but since 1980 she has been one of the leads in shaping the history of the women’s golf program on this campus.
She was the first recruit of the fledging program prior to the 1979-80 season and helped mold the team that would become the first to tee it up for LSU women’s golf. She graduated from LSU in 1984 and subsequently was named the women’s head coach prior to the 1984-85 season. In her second year, she had the number one player in the country, five team titles and a top 10 NCAA Championships finish.
The program has marched forward from there. Entering her 34th season, the coach who has seen it all when it comes to women’s golf at LSU still has the passion and anticipation or what another important spring season will hold. Bahnsen knows another opportunity waits on the national golf scene, a place where LSU has regularly had a place at the table of top teams.
Bahnsen is in many ways a historian for the sport of college golf, especially at LSU and the Southeastern Conference. She has seen the sport improve in so many ways with better equipment, better scores and better players. She has now seen the sport she loves advance into the television age as the Golf Channel documents the women’s final and its exciting match play championships.
The dean of SEC coaches and a Women’s Golf Coaches Association Hall of Famer continues to get the job done for her program and her University each and every year. She is driven to succeed and has the beliefs and values that reach her players and gives them the chance to be successful as well.
Over the course of 33 successful years as head coach, it’s not just wins and losses that matter. It is grade point average as well as greens in regulation. It is graduation day as well as tournament championships. It’s the big picture of preparing for the future whether that is as a business woman, a woman raising a family and if the chance to play professionally arises, then the LSU Lady Tigers are prepared for that as well.
As the program enters its 38th season, it’s easy to see how far this program has come – from visiting the campus book store to get matching shirts for the first tournament and getting in a van to travel to back-to-back third place team finishes in the NCAA Championships and charter planes to certain tournament sites.
Since she took over Bahnsen has contributed her share of great stars in her years as head coach:
Jenny Lidback – the nation’s No. 1 player in 1986, who won seven tournaments in one season. She went on to win an LPGA Major and is the first women’s golfer in the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Jackie Gallagher-Smith – played for LSU in the 1980s that produced a long and steady career on the LPGA Tour, including an LPGA victory.
Three Amigas – Ashley Winn, Michelle Louviere, Laura Moore – 1995-98, led LSU to a succession of NCAA appearances (including a fifth place finish in 1998), a No. 1 ranking and nine tournament titles.
Katy Wilkinson Harris – Had All-American bookend performances in her freshman and senior years and came out of retirement to win on the Symetra Tour, play on the LPGA tour and appear on Golf Channel’s “The Big Break.”
Meredith Duncan – Won three major amateur titles in 2001 including the USGA Women’s Amateur title … Member of the Curtis Cup team and winner of the Dinah Shore Award from LPGA … Played on the LPGA Tour.
Lisette Lee – Also winner on the Diana Shore Award from LPGA.
Megan McChrystal – Five-time champion in college with three A-A citations … Set LSU records for single season and career stroke average … Multiple Symetra Tour winner, member LPGA Tour.
Austin Ernst – Winner of the 2011 NCAA Championship … Two-time All-American … Semifinalist 2011 USGA Women’s Amateur and LPGA Tour … Winner LPGA Tour
Tessa Teachman – Part of two NCAA third place teams with a third place individual finish. Reality star on Golf Channel’s Big Break.
Madelene Sagstrom — 2015 SEC Player of the Year, runner-up for the ANNIKA Award. First-Team All-America, Three-time First Team All-SEC … 2016 Symetra Tour POY, leading money winner … Will play on 2017 LPGA Tour.
It was 2011 and 2012 that the Lady Tigers brought home third place hardware from the NCAA team championships. The Tigers have advanced to that championship round 13 times, 12 under Coach Bahnsen. LSU has qualified for NCAA regional play in all but two years since the format started in 1993.
In 2016-17, after a 2015-16 season that saw its number one player, All-American Caroline Nistrup, sidelined by wrist problems, the Lady Tigers had a solid group of players blended together for a solid season. Nistrup advanced to the NCAA Tournament as an individual.
To Coach Bahnsen, it seems like only yesterday when Buddy Alexander, who was handling both the men’s and women’s golf teams at LSU, elected to hand her the keys to the LSU women’s golf program prior to the 1984-85 season. The enthusiasm and competitive spirit that Bahnsen showed people like Alexander as a player is the same enthusiasm and competitive spirit that is evident as a coach.
She has had the drive, the determination and the willingness to succeed ever since those playing days. Bahnsen knows what it takes to get to the pinnacle of women’s collegiate golf – the NCAA Women’s Championship Tournament. She will ask her team to work hard and respond to the challenge, but it was be nothing less than she ever asked of herself as a player.
Now the message is being spread farther thanks to those who have worked and played for her. Former assistant Golda Borst continues to have success at Kentucky. Marci Kornegay served a long tenure as head coach at South Florida. Ashley (Winn) Tonore, who played for Bahnsen in 1995-98, served for several years as the Director of Golf and head women’s coach at ULM. Former player Alexis Rather has also joined the coaching fraternity in her seventh year as an assistant and her fifth at LSU.
Over the years Bahnsen has come up with a simple philosophy that she started using as a player. It’s so simple, but so amazingly effective when put into play. She wants her team to play each shot as a separate event. If something bad happens, forget it and move on. Don’t let it carry on for four or five holes. Most of all have fun.
Bahnsen’s love and desire for a program she has devoted over half her life to is what also gives her a smiling satisfaction about a program she has virtually helped design from scratch. She is more energized than ever to make the program a continuing contender in the national spotlight.
How many programs are there in any sports in Division I intercollegiate athletics where the program’s first recruit goes on to become the head coach of the program and stays long enough to not the dean of league coaches in the sport, but also one of the longest tenured coaches in school history? She is one of the most respected individuals in the game today, not just in the SEC but all college golf circles.
The numbers easily show her success:
40 Team Tournament Titles
43 Individual Tournament Titles
11 Top 3 Finishes in the SEC Championships
22 appearances in the NCAA Regionals
12 appearances in the NCAA Championships
7 top 10 finishes in the NCAA Championships (2 thirds)
How about some off-the-course numbers:
99 SEC Academic Honor Roll Selections
33 Women’s Golf Coaches Association Academic Scholars
In 2010, Bahnsen’s golf team was recognized as just one of three teams at LSU to earn an NCAA Public Recognition Award for exceptional work in this classroom. The awards are given annually to teams scoring in the top 10 percent in each sport with their Academic Progress Rate (APR).
She knows that nothing on the LPGA or the Symetra tours is guaranteed for any golfer. She knows what it is like to have a husband, a family and the need to divide time between the coaching job and the family time. Her values on balancing both are what makes her a special person and a coach that players want to play for.
Every year has brought new challenges and every time Bahnsen has answered that call. Every year, the desire to succeed is that much greater and that is what seems to continue to light the fire of the lady who knows LSU golf inside and outside, backwards and forwards.
Bahnsen came to LSU with credentials that were excellent, lettering in golf at McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile, Ala. She led the school to two state titles and in 1979 won the state individual championship and the National High School Tournament. Her mother was an LPGA teaching professional, a four-time Alabama state women’s champion, and a Mobile Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
In 2015, mother and daughter were united again as Karen Bahnsen was honored as an inductee into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame.
Bahnsen is married to LSU Senior Associate Athletic Director David “Bo” Bahnsen. They have two children, son Darren, 28 (an LSU graduate, a former member of state championship golf and basketball teams at University High in Baton Rouge) and daughter, Devin, 25.
THE BAHNSEN FILE
Date of Birth: Oct. 11, 1960
Husband: David “Bo” Bahnsen, LSU Sr. Associate AD
Children: Darren 28, Devin 25
High School: McGill Toolen, Mobile, Ala.
College: BA, LSU, 1984
1979 — High School All-American; National High School Champion
1980-83 — Four-year letter winner at LSU, first golf signee; AIAW Tournament participant, 1980-81; NCAA Tournament participant, 1982
1986 — SEC Coach of the Year; NGCA South Region Coach of the Year; Team finished ninth at the NCAA Division I Championships
1992 — Team won Southeastern Conference Championship Tournament
1994 — Member, La. Team, SE Women’s Amateur Championships
1995 — Member, La. Team, SEC Women’s Amateur Championships; SEC Coach of the Year; Winning Co-Coach, East-West All-Star NCAA Match
1996 — Team finished eighth at the NCAA Division I Championships
1997 — NGCA South Region Coach of the Year
1998 — Team finished fifth at the NCAA Division I Championships
1999 — Team finished 10th at the NCAA Division I Championships
2000 — Team finished 10th at the NCAA Division I Championships
2001 — Team finished 12th at the NCAA Division I Championships
2006 — Team finished 23rd at the NCAA Division I Championships; LSWA Louisiana Women’s Golf Coach of the Year
2007 — LSWA Louisiana Women’s Golf Coach of the Year
2008 — Team finished 15th at the NCAA Division I Championships; LSWA Louisiana Women’s Golf Coach of the Year; Inducted into NGCA Hall of Fame
2009 — Team finished 12th at the NCAA Division I Championships
2011 — Team finished 3rd at the NCAA Division I Championships; LSWA Louisiana Women’s Golf Coach of the Year
2012 — Team finished 3rd at the NCAA Division 1 Championships; LSWA Louisiana Women’s Golf Coach of the Year.
2015 — Team finished 20th at the NCAA Division I Championships; Inducted Mobile Sports Hall of Fame; LSWA Louisiana Women’s Golf Coach of the Year.
Bahnsen’s Year-by-Year Coaching Record
|1985-86||131||15||0||.897||5||9th in NCAA Championships|
|1992-93||55||80||0||.407||0||NCAA Regional Participant|
|1994-95||89||59||2||.593||2||NCAA Regional Participant|
|1995-96||138||33||1||.805||3||8th in NCAA Championships|
|1996-97||120||31||0||.795||3||NCAA Regional Participant|
|1997-98||137||34||3||.796||1||5th in NCAA Championships|
|1998-99||110||62||0||.639||0||10th in NCAA Championships|
|1999-2000||129||38||0||.772||1||10th in NCAA Championships|
|2000-01||110||50||4||.683||1||12th in NCAA Championships|
|2001-02||89||67||1||.587||0||NCAA Regional Participant|
|2003-04||98||37||2||.715||1||NCAA Regional Participant|
|2004-05||118||32||2||.776||2||NCAA Regional Participant|
|2005-06||91||77||0||.542||0||23rd in NCAA Championships|
|2006-07||87||83||3||.511||0||NCAA Regional Participant|
|2007-08||119||81||0||.595||0||15th in NCAA Championships|
|2008-09||149||41||0||.784||2||12th in NCAA Championships|
|2009-10||104||62||3||.624||1||NCAA Regional Participant|
|2010-11||153||45||1||.771||1||3rd in NCAA Championships|
|2011-12||147||47||0||.758||4||3rd in NCAA Championships|
|2012-13||89||74||5||.545||0||NCAA Regional Participant|
|2013-14||101||58||2||.634||0||NCAA Regional Participant|
|2014-15||126||47||0||.728||3||20th in NCAA Championships|
|2015-16||58||92||3||.379||0||NCAA Regional Participant|
|Totals||3062||1739||46||.636||39||12 NCAA Appearances; 22 NCAA Regional Appearances|