Catching up with a legend: Mickey Wright

Mary "Mickey" Wright holds a World Golf Hall of Fame plaque bearing her likeness in Pinehurst, N.C., where she was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Sept. 8, 1976.

Mary "Mickey" Wright holds a World Golf Hall of Fame plaque bearing her likeness in Pinehurst, N.C., where she was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Sept. 8, 1976.

Mickey Wright said she nearly dropped her teeth when she learned she’d be getting her own room at the USGA Museum. Of course, the USGA likely had a similar reaction when the intensely private Wright offered more than 200 artifacts to the Far Hills, N.J., shrine. Wright later clarified that she does, in fact, still have all of her teeth. Wright’s humor and charm are missed in the industry as much as her glorious swing.

Golfweek spoke with Wright by phone Wednesday morning from her home in Florida, catching up with the LPGA legend in a rare interview. Wright, 76, who won 82 LPGA titles, including 13 major championships, shared her thoughts on letting go of so many prized possessions for the new display, set to open in June. She’s the first woman to receive such an honor, joining Bob Jones, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer as legends who have their own rooms at the USGA.

Here are excerpts from the conversation:

Was there anything you unearthed along the way that you had forgotten about that brought a smile to your face?

“I can’t tell you how many things. My friend Peggy Wilson – I didn’t even know I had half of this stuff – had put it back in closets and saved it. Of course she’s the one who worked up those 25 albums that are really the history of the LPGA and some history of women’s golf. Oh, there were things like from Louisville, Ky., where I shot my 62. She had all the winner’s cups; I’d won it three times. She had some sterling silver cups she brought out. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even remember having a cup. … Autograph books I had forgotten about, like Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Patty Berg. … The living room was loaded. There were 34 boxes. You could hardly walk through the living room.”

What did you decide to keep?

“There are two things I decided not to let go. The last so-called honor I received was the Bobby Jones Award in 2010. I kept that. And I have a very favorite print in the living room that matches my drapes.”

What do you hope that youngsters, especially, who go through this room next summer will learn about the women’s game and take away from the experience?

“I’m glad you asked that question. I think there’s a lot to be taken away from comparing golf back in the earlier days, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s. … Just looking at equipment, looking at the golf ball and thinking about the difference in the agronomy now, versus back then. Before they took the clubs, I took a 4-iron out of my (old) bag, and I have a new set from Wilson. The 4-iron of today is 2 1/2 inches longer than the old 4-iron. The face of the club is about an inch bigger than the old clubs. Today, they don’t even put 2-irons in golf bags.”

How did you build the perfect golf swing?

“I don’t get a whole bunch of credit for it. Harry Pressler, who I started taking lessons from in 1950 when I was 15, was considered the best teacher in California. In 1949, I played the first Southern California Junior Girls Championship at San Gabriel Country Club, where he was the professional. At the end of the tournament, he came up to me and said, ‘If you ever want to improve your swing, just give me a call.’ So when I got home, my mother and I gave him a call. He said, ‘I’m going to be in San Diego next week. May I come by your house?’ He came by in the afternoon and spent over two hours in the living room, giving me my first golf lesson (from him). And every Saturday for the next two years, my mother and I drove to San Gabriel, which is 125 miles, 250 round trip. … He was absolutely the best teacher in the country, as far as I was concerned. He gets all the credit for it, and all I did was practice.”

The LPGA is bringing back the Titleholders this week, in name, if nothing else. Can you tell me a little bit about the original event, where I know you had some success?

“It was very special to us because it was right next door to the Masters course. The eighth hole at Augusta Country Club, where we played, went right down to the 12th hole at the Masters. It just seemed like you had a real close tie with the Titleholders and the Masters. Bobby Jones once said that Augusta Country Club was a tougher course than (Augusta National), and I still think it is.”

Is there anything left in your house?

“That’s a great question. Not a whole, heck of a lot. It’s never been so neat. Underneath beds and in the closets, you can actually see what’s there.”

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