Wright, Mickey (1935—)

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Wright, Mickey (1935—)

American golfer, considered one of the all-time greats. Name variations: Jay Wright; Mary Kathryn Wright. Born Mary Kathryn Wright in San Diego, California, on February 14, 1935; attended Stanford University, 1953–54.

Turned pro (1954); won LPGA championship (1958, 1960, 1961, 1963); won U.S. Women's Open (1958, 1959, 1961, 1964); won Titleholders (1961 and 1962); won the Western Women's Open (1962, 1963, 1966); only woman to hold all four major titles simultaneously; achieved a record 14 wins (1963); was LPGA all-time leading money winner (1964–68); inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame (1964), the World Golf Hall of Fame (1976), and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame (1981).

Teased for her unusual height, the 5'8", 11-year-old Mickey Wright was called "Moose" by classmates. She looked to a sport to boost her self-confidence and became one of the greatest women golfers in history.

Wright was born in San Diego, California, in 1935, into an industrious family. Her grandmother was the first woman pharmacist in Illinois and her grandfather was an inventor. Wright's father, a lawyer who had once crossed from the Midwest to the West Coast on horseback, likely provided an example of competitiveness. He bought her a set of golf clubs, and Wright began practicing when she was 9 at the La Jolla Country Club. By the time she was 13, she was shooting in the low 80s. A year later, Wright took the Southern California Girls' championship, a victory followed at age 15 by a win at the Invitational Tournament at La Jolla, where she made her first hole-in-one. Early on, such notable pros as Johnny Bellante, Harry Pressler, and Les Bolstad helped to develop the swing that would make her famous.

In 1952, Wright was 17 when she won the national U.S. Golfing Association Junior Girls' championship. As a freshman at Stanford University, she was the low amateur at the U.S. Women's Open and runner-up in the U.S. Amateur championship. Since her low scores were comparable to those of the top female professionals, Wright decided to leave college to dedicate herself to golf. Joining the Ladies' Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in 1954, she intended to become a leader in the sport. Such surety of her abilities would pave the way. "Winning really never crossed my mind that much," she later noted. "It's trite, but I knew if I did it as well as I could, I would win. If I did as well as I could, it would have been better than anybody else did it, and therefore it would win."

The year she turned pro, Wright was paired with her idol Babe Didrikson Zaharias at the U.S. Women's Open (1954). Zaharias, watching the young golfer on the practice tee, commented, "I didn't think anyone but the Babe could hit'em like that." Zaharias won the tournament, and

Wright was the low amateur. On the professional circuit a year later, Wright began the first of her 82 professional victories. In 1958, she won the U.S. Women's Open with a four-round total of 290, breaking Zaharias' standing record. She beat her own record by three strokes the following year. By 1963, she earned $32,000 in winnings, the highest of any woman golfer, and she was proof positive that women's golf had come of age. Wright outdrove most male players; her fairway shots were often 225 to 270 yards long. (Once, with the help of strong winds in Dallas, she overdrove on a 385-yard hole.) She finished play during 1964 holding first place for lifetime earnings ($176,994), a distinction she would maintain for the next several years (until her 1969 all-time earnings of more than $268,000 were surpassed by Kathy Whitworth ).

During her long career, Wright would win each of the four major tournaments—the U.S. Women's Open, the LPGA championship, the Western Women's Open, and the Titleholder's Tournament—at least twice. She took both the LPGA and U.S. Open titles four times and during one period between 1960 and 1962 became the only woman to hold all four majors titles simultaneously. While performing at such a consistently high level of play, Wright confronted both her own perfectionism and the public pressure that accompanied success. She would later recall in The Illustrated History of Women's Golf: "The main emotion going into any new season was fear. Every season, just every season. It was the fear that no matter how good the previous year had been, this year would not be as good, and the pressure to win that first tournament was unbelievable."

Each year between 1960 and 1964, Wright received the Vare Trophy, indicating that she had the best year-long average on the LPGA tour. She won 13 tournaments in 1963, averaging 72.81 strokes per 18 holes and earning the Female Athlete of the Year award from the Associated Press both that and the following year (1963 and 1964). Wright was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame (1964) and into the World Golf Hall of Fame (1976), before being named to the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.

Popular with the spectators, the once-gangly teenager had turned her height into an asset, becoming arguably the best golfer in the world. By virtue of her excellence, as well as her acceptance of speaking engagements, she brought great attention to her sport. In 1965, a combination of publicity activities, stressful competitions, and a wrist injury brought her to a short-lived retirement. She returned to the tour a year later. By the time wrist and foot injuries prompted her second retirement from full-time touring in 1970, the 35-year-old Wright had changed the face of women's golf with her enormous drives and what some still describe as her perfect swing. Noted one colleague: "Mickey got the outside world to take a second hard look at women golfers, and when they looked, they saw the rest of us."

Wright continued to enter tournaments after her retirement. She took the Colgate-Dinah Shore championship in 1973 and participated in the 1979 Coca-Cola Classic. Looking back, she called her extraordinary career "a dream, another life." That dream changed the face of her sport by emphasizing a remarkable standard of excellence. It also made her in the minds of many perhaps the greatest player ever in women's golf.


Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1992.

Karin L. Haag and Richard Wasowski , freelance writer, Mansfield, Ohio

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