Ben Hogan described her swing as the best he ever saw. So did Byron Nelson. For 14 years, she dominated women’s golf, winning 82 tournaments and carrying the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour on her shoulders. Mickey Wright was not burdened by potential-potential, in her words, was but a hope to be fulfilled. What made her retire, at age 34, was the burden of being Mickey Wright.
“The pressure was so great,” remembers Kathy Whitworth. “Sponsors threatened to cancel their tournaments if she didn’t play. And, knowing that if they canceled, the rest of us wouldn’t be able to play, Mickey would always play.”
The buzzword today is burnout. 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 doing every conceivable interview and attending every press conference that was scheduled. That just wasn’t her. “I’m not real good as far as wanting to be in front of people, glorying in it and loving it,” Wright has said. “I think you have to love that to make that kind of pressure tolerable. It finally got to where it wasn’t tolerable to me.”
"I feel as if I've earned my own version of a master's degree in psychology in study and experience, trial and error, on golf courses throughout the United States. For psychology...is as integral a part of good golf as an efficient swing."
It had also reached the point where there wasn’t much left to accomplish. Wright 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, twice had winning streaks of four straight tournaments and held LPGA records for lowest round (62), lowest nine-hole score (30) and most birdies in a round (nine). At the peak of her career, Herbert Warren Wind described her as “a tall, good-looking girl who struck the ball with the same decisive hand action that the best men players use, she fused her hitting action smoothly with the rest of her swing, which was like Hogan’s in that all the unfunctional moves had been pared away, and like Jones’ in that its cohesive timing disguised the effort that went into it.”
Citing an adverse reaction to sunlight, an aversion to flying and foot problems, Wright cut back her schedule dramatically after the 1969 season to lead a quieter, simpler life, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Although she came back in 1973 to win the Dinah Shore, Wright knew that she had fulfilled her potential and elected to bow out on her terms. “I maintain that she could have won 100 tournaments if she hadn’t quit early,” says Whitworth, who won 88.
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 CC, and within a year had broken 100. Three years later, she posted a round of 70 in a local tournament and, in 1952, Wright won the USGA Girls’ Junior championship for her first national title.
Mickey Wright’s 13 wins in 1963 remain the most in a single LPGA season.
For a year, Wright studied psychology at Stanford, but she left school after her freshman year to play a fulltime 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.
“Golf has brought me more rewards, financially and personally, than I ever could have earned had I become the psychology teacher I set out to be,” Wright said later in life. “I feel as if I’ve earned my own version of a master’s degree in psychology in study and experience, trial and error, on golf courses throughout the United States. For psychology…is as integral a part of good golf as an efficient swing.”