Mickey Wright, LPGA Legend, dies at 85
Golf lost another legend Monday with the passing of 13-time major champion, Mickey Wright.
According to the Associated Press, Wright suffered a heart attack in Fort Lauderdale where she had been hospitalized the last few weeks.
To honor Wright’s passing, we encourage you to revisit an ode to her that was previously published the week she was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame.
Mary Kathryn “Mickey” Wright’s golf swing was like a concerto that would stop players in their tracks in admiration. Ben Hogan described her swing as the best he ever saw, and so did Byron Nelson.
In her book, “Play Golf the Wright Way,” Mickey tried to explain the fascination that golf had for her. ”Something happened to me when I swung a golf club. I felt free and graceful like somebody. I still do. Golf to me is not only a way of life, it’s a creative outlet, a constant, neverending challenge; frustrating but never dull; infuriating, but satisfying.”
That strong, graceful swing would guide Wright to 13 major championships and 82 victories total (second most all-time), with many coming while carrying the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour on her shoulders. Wright was representing Wilson Sporting Goods, and during a two-year period (1957-58), she not only competed in more than 25 tournaments each season, she also gave a total of 252 Wilson golf clinics across the country.
“I carried some weight on my shoulders, but compared to Patty Berg and Louise Suggs, none,” says Wright of fulfilling sponsor obligations. “That was very, very tough. I am a shy person, and it was tough to get in front of so many people.”
Born Feb. 14, 1935, in San Diego, Wright began to hit balls with her father at age 4. At the age of 11, she received her first lesson at La Jolla Country Club, and within a year, she had broken 100. Wright was introduced to golf by her father, Arthur, a 15 handicapper and attorney in San Diego. “Golf meant so much to him; I think it rubbed off on me. That’s part of why I had such drive to play well,” she said. “My mother, Kathryn, did not play, but she encouraged me, absolutely.”
Along the way, PGA Professionals provided valued support. Johnny Bellante, of San Diego, taught her balance and rhythm. Mission Valley Country Club instructor Fred Sherman provided additional support. Then, there was Harry Pressler of San Gabriel Country Club. He met Wright in 1949 after she competed in the Southern California Girls’ Junior Championship at his club. Pressler’s practice tee would ultimately shape a women’s golf masterpiece. Every Saturday for two years, Kathryn Wright would drive her daughter from San Diego to San Gabriel Country Club, 250 miles round trip. “He was absolutely the best teacher in the country, as far as I was concerned,” said Wright. “He gets all the credit for it, and all I did was practice.”
Three years later, Wright posted a round of 70 in a local tournament, and in 1952, Wright won the USGA Girls’ Junior championship for her first national title. For a year, Wright studied psychology at Stanford, but she left school after her freshman year to play a full-time schedule. In the summer of 1954, she lost in the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, finished fourth in the Women’s Open to Babe Zaharias and won the World Amateur staged by golf promoter George S. May. Those three tournaments convinced Wright to leave school and turn professional.
Wright played 33 tournaments in 1962, another 30 in 1963, and 27 in 1964. She won 10, 13 and 11 tournaments in those years, and as the LPGA’s president, it was Wright’s duty to promote the tour by being the face of the LPGA. She was a 1964 inductee into the LPGA Hall of Fame; and in 1976, was enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
She won the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA Championship four times each. She won the Vare Trophy five times, was the leading money winner four times, and twice had winning streaks of four straight tournaments.
In 1968, Wright joined Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, which was Hogan’s home club. She would hit practice balls in the area not far from where Hogan was practicing. He would drive his cart over and watch Wright practice.
Hogan had heard that Wright was planning to retire. “You owe it to the game to keep playing,” he said. Wright never forgot that exchange and also her opportunity later to record 8 mm movies of Hogan practicing.
She retired from full-time competition in 1969, at the age of 34. Citing an adverse reaction to sunlight, an aversion to flying and foot problems, Wright settled for a quiet life in Port St. Lucie, Florida. She did return to the Tour to win the 1973 Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle, a decade before that event was deemed an LPGA major.
Mickey Wright continues to be an ardent observer of today’s LPGA Professionals. “I am so happy for them that they have it,” said Wright. “I hope that they understand that it has not always been sunshine and roses. I do hope that they appreciate the history behind the game.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by the PGA of America as a member of PGA Hall of Fame. I look back upon those PGA Professionals who helped shape my career and love of the game. They meant so much to me. I am very pleased to be among those previous recipients and those I join this year.
I was a pioneer, I guess, but like those who I played with at the time, we didn’t know we were. We were so conscious of making a living and fulfilling many obligations to compete and help one another. When I was growing up, there was no such thing as junior golf. I went to Stanford for one year, but with no golf program I was eager to turn professional and join the tour where I could help the growth of women’s golf. I followed such greats as Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias. We all became ambassadors for the sport.”