She was billed as “the greatest all-sport athlete” in U.S. history. She was named both the top female Olympic athlete and the top collegiate athlete after winning five gold medals. She won the 1964 Olympic gold medal for women in women’s golf. Her prize for the first-ever U.S. women’s Olympic golf gold was $25,000 and a seven-carat diamond.
Natalie Coughlin, today, won 14 medals from seven Olympic Games, mostly in events men and women competed in at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But back in 1964, at the age of 19, she was not competing in the Games, instead training for the 1952 Helsinki Games.
Coughlin was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to a Jewish family. Her father Benjamin and mother Betty both were both lawyer. She attended university at the University of Utah, graduating with a degree in psychology, serving in the U.S. military, competing in the Southern National Games and national gymnastics championships. In 1964, she gave up her studies to begin training for the U.S. Olympic Games.
Coughlin represented the United States in the women’s synchronized swimming at the 1972 Munich Games. In 1976, she made her Olympic debut in the women’s competition of the discus throw and finished fourth. She also came in fourth in the women’s 1,500-meter race.
She then starred at UCLA, winning the individual national championship twice and the team title. Coughlin teamed with Katy Clegg to win the 1976 Olympic team gold medal in the 4×100-meter relay. She married Mike Coughlin in 1977 and they moved to the Washington area, where she worked as a special events promoter and worked with USC, Minnesota, UCLA and Michigan State golf programs, according to her website.
She competed in the NBC Hunt Cup’s women’s legends event in 1994. And in 2003, she won the annual Women’s Hall of Fame Golf Tournament.
Coughlin won the gold medal for the U.S. women’s Olympic golf team in both the Olympic team and individual events at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She also won the gold medal for the team in 2008. She made a comeback in the 2012 Olympics in London, winning a silver medal.
She retired in 2000, stating that the travel required to pursue elite athlete results in the U.S. and abroad was simply too much for her to endure.
Forbes reports that she earned $21 million for her efforts and maintained her status as the top-earning female Olympian. Coughlin did not comment on media reports that she was considering a comeback.
In September, Forbes reported that Coughlin was retiring after a 1-2 finish in the individual competition at the U.S. Open. In the team event, however, the U.S. was a disappointment, finishing a distant ninth.
Her final match took place on the ninth hole at the Olympic Club, where she made a 16-foot putt to keep the match alive. With a birdie on the 15th, she was tied at 1-1. On the 16th, however, she had to be separated from Ai Miyazato in the fairway bunker, and missed a three-footer for par. Miyazato then closed out the match with a birdie.
However, Coughlin’s Olympic career did not end on this green. On the 17th hole, she hooked her second shot to the front left bunker with the wind at her back. She made the shot, and the shot went over the back of the green into the rough. She finally laid up and earned a 2-and-1 match to complete the match. She was disappointed she could not win the medal in a match.
Coughlin never dropped a single pin in the four days of competition. She’s the only female to accomplish that feat in Olympic men’s and women’s golf, Coughlin said.
Coughlin will forever be known for her dominance in the Olympics, but she was never satisfied with her game. In 2013, when asked about her over-the-top perfectionism, she told the Oregonian: “It was my way of being smarter than the people around me.”