Argue about the Greatest All You Want – Mickey Wright is Still a Phenomenon
Depending upon our ages, we all got to experience the greats in every activity precious to us. Every generation produced them, and if we grew up with them, they are “our” greatest. I have no problem with that. Science is not yet so advanced that we can take athletes decades apart, put them in the prime of their playing lives with the same courses, clubs, balls, competition and weather, then calculate how it would all have turned out. With all the attempts to compare over the eras, my inner golfer screams “Render unto Caesar, and render unto Patty, Mickey, Kathy, Nancy, or whatever the name of “your” greatest. I had a renewed inspiration in revisiting the career of Mickey Wright today, a golfer I followed as a teen. Today’s greatest might be Annika or any number of the superkids, but today, I am rendering unto Mickey Wright what are Mickey Wright’s.
One of the LPGA’s great founders, actually named Mary Kathryn Wright, this early superstar was born in 1935 in San Diego. That’s great country for golf, but can we imagine the technology of the game in that decade? Before her professional career, Wright took no time to rev up, winning the ’52 U.S. Girls Junior Championship and the ’54 World Amateur. As low amateur in the ’54 U.S. Women’s Open, Wright finally turned pro. Along the way, she managed to attend Stanford University and study psychology – not bad.
Wright’s reign of more than a decade, in which she won every year on her new tour, was eclipsed by Kathy Whitworth’s 17-year mark. However I’m “rendering” to Mickey Wright today…maybe Kathy Whitworth next week. Wright finished her career with 82 wins, and 13 victories in majors. At that time, the majors list was a bit different. She took the U.S. Women’s Open in ’58, ’59, ’61 and ’64. Her LPGA Championship wins were taken in ’58, ’60, ’61, and ’63. Her Western Open record tallies wins in ’62, ’63’ and ’66. Needless to say, Wright received every award one could receive in those days. She was the money leader from ’61 to ’64, and was named the Woman Athlete of the Year by the National Associated Press in ’63 and ’64. She took the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, and was named the Greatest Female Golfer of the 20th Century by the AP. By her 27th birthday, she had already accomplished the career Grand Slam. Now, don’t start arguing about why “your” great was greater. We can’t know that, either way. This week’s “rendering” is Mickey Wright, and we’re playing in my era.
The last full year of Wright’s playing days was 1969. Riddled with the type of injuries that golfers should never have, she seldom played over 10 tournaments again. However, her final victory came all the way into 1973, and she managed to make a 5-way playoff, eventually won by Nancy Lopez. The legacy Wright has left is in large part embodied within her name. I do not believe that she will ever be a dry, dusty item from an old record book where people leaf through the pages and say, “Who was that, i wonder?” This is the player that was dubbed the best swing in the business by one of the great swings himself, Ben Hogan. This is the golfer who had an almost metaphysical command over her own game. She once remarked that “when I play my best golf, I feel as if I’m in a fog, standing back watching the earth in orbit with a golf club in my hands.”
What an era that was for me. I have seen all that came after, and know that the case for greatest can be directed in several directions. However, if we can avoid an attempt to meld the eras, and just “render” to the greats those things that are the greats’, we’ll have excellent conversations. I only insist that Mickey Wright be in it, and I’m almost sure that Caesar never played golf.