Women's superstar Wright donates mementos to USGA for museum

By
Associated Press

Series: Industry News

The silver U.S. Women’s Open trophies. Her famous Bulls-Eye putter she used for all but one of her 82 victories. Rare video footage of her golf swing, which Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson once called the best they ever saw.

Mickey Wright kept this treasure in her Florida home for nearly 40 years, some of it on tables and shelves, some of it stashed away in closets and under the bed. She never gave it another thought.

Considered by many to be the greatest player in LPGA history, Wright was never one to get wrapped up in the past.

“I’m not a real sentimental type,” she said.

That’s why it was such a major coup for the U.S. Golf Association when Wright agreed to donate some 200 personal artifacts for a permanent display at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.

Wright will be only the fourth player -- and first woman -- to have a gallery in her name at the museum. The others are for Hogan, Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer. It is scheduled to open in June.

“This is exciting beyond belief,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said. “Many people suggest she had one of the finest swings ever in the game. She dominated women’s golf for a long time. And she’s got a little bit of that Hogan mystique. She’s pretty quiet, and when she left the game, she really did leave the game. People didn’t have a lot of access to her.”

The 76-year-old Wright has been inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame and honored at the Memorial Tournament by Jack Nicklaus. The Mickey Wright Room at the USGA Museum is special -- not just for her, but to draw attention to women’s golf.

“I’m so excited for this room, the first for a woman,” Wright said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s a great honor. The best thing will be the contrast that people will be able to see between today’s golf, which is a completely different game from what was played in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. I hope they can appreciate their roots.”

Wright spent the last few months helping to pack the 34 boxes that were shipped to the USGA and arrived last Thursday.

They include that putter given to her by the late Mary Lena Faulk, and the Wilson Staff golf clubs that she used in every win since 1963 except for one. She briefly came out of retirement in 1973 and won the Colgate Dinah Shore.

Trophies range from the 1952 U.S. Girls’ Junior to two of her four U.S. Open titles. She still has a contestant’s badge from the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open when she was an amateur paired with Babe Zaharias. Most special to her are the 25 scrapbooks compiled by longtime friend Peggy Wilson of clippings, letters and her nationally syndicated column, “Lessons from Mickey Wright.”

It was a rare occasion for Wright to look back on a career in which she won 44 tournament in a span of four years in the early 1960s, and 12 majors between 1958 and 1966.

“I’m not much for living in the past,” she said. “But I enjoyed doing it, reliving it.”

Two items she kept for herself were the Bob Jones Award she received last year, the USGA’s highest honor; and a three-page letter of “fatherly advice” that longtime USGA Executive Director Joe Dey wrote to her when she turned pro.

One of the last items she packed was a mat that was rolled up and had been collecting dust as she recovered from knee surgery.

For years, Wright used to hit balls off that mat from her patio onto the 14th fairway of the golf course where she lives each morning. Then, she would go out to the fairway to pick them up.

“I sat on her patio and watched her do it,” said Rhonda Glenn, a USGA historian and longtime friend. “It was a treat. I used to watch Hogan practice when I was a little girl, at Seminole. There was this crack when he hit the ball. I had never heard it again until Mickey was hitting balls, this crack with a 6-iron. Of all the great players I’ve seen, there were only two who hit it like that.”

A week ago, Wright cleaned off the mat, went out to the patio and one last time hit wedges out to the fairway.

It was Glenn and Barbara Romack, who twice beat Wright in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, who encouraged her to give the public a chance to share in an LPGA career like no other.

“Rhonda tossed out the idea that I might want to donate some of my items to the USGA, and it just mushroomed from there,” Wright said. “It sounded like a really good idea.”

The collection includes footage of Wright developing her swing with Harry Pressler, her teacher who worked in San Gabriel, Calif. Wright’s mother used to drive her two hours from their home in San Diego each Saturday to work with him.

“This is the greatest treasure,” Glenn said. “She showed me a home movie of herself hitting balls at 11. I was transfixed. She said she was embarrassed. ‘My footwork is so sloppy!’ I said, ‘Mickey, you were 11!”’

The pursuit of perfection, much like Hogan, was endless.

The star power was reminiscent of Tiger Woods.

Wright held such appeal that sponsors threatened to cancel tournaments if she didn’t play. It was a burden she accepted by averaging 30 tournaments a year between 1962 and 1964. She drove from one stop to the next, often hitting putts into a glass in her hotel room to get feel back into the hands that had been wrapped around a steering wheel all day.

She walked away at her peak, returning a decade later for the occasional the tournament.

“I can go back and second-guess that one,” Wright said. “I should have played longer. At the time, I had physical problems and had to play in tennis shoes. And then there was the pressure and the stress of having to win, of having won so much, of the press being disappointed if I didn’t win, having to be at tournaments.”

“I finally had enough,” she said. “And I had accomplished what I had set out to do.”

The Mickey Wright Room will be 400 square feet, next to the Palmer gallery, overlooking the magnolia trees in front of the museum.

“This is such a find,” Davis said. “There’s probably people today who don’t know much about Mickey Wright. For anyone who loves history of the game, they know what she’s done. I think when the news gets out, women who follow the game -- particularly ones who played the tour before -- are going to be inspired.

“Mickey decided to give up things that had been very private.”