Mickey Wright, widely considered the greatest female golfer of all time, died on Monday of a heart attack, according to the AP. Wright was 85.
Wright joined the LPGA Tour in 1955, at a time when compiling a whopping 82 wins. That total includes 13 major championships, and Wright remains the only LPGA player to hold all major titles at the same time. At her height, Wright won 44 times in a four-year stretch, and was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year twice, in 1963 and 1964.
“At my best I would go into what I called a ‘fog.’ I never thought of it as the ‘zone’ you hear about today, though maybe it was something like that,” Wright told Golf Digest’s Guy Yocom in a 2017 interview. “It was a mental state where I could concentrate really well and play with a greater confidence than usual. I had it when I shot 62 at Hunting Creek in Louisville in 1964. It was elusive, but that’s when I played my best.”
But Wright’s excellence was not confined to her performance. Her swing was so mechanically sound and pure that Ben Hogan dubbed it the finest swing in the game. Moreover, she also served as LPGA president during a two-year stretch. A responsibility that took its toll on her.
“I attended every cocktail party and Rotary Club event,” she told Yocom. “The sum of trying to meet the expectations of [teacher] Earl Wright, the LPGA, my father and the public exhausted me physically and emotionally. I developed an ulcer and had all kinds of anxiety. It wasn’t the years, it was the mileage.”
Worse, she was plagued by foot injuries, forcing her to retire from full-time competition at age 34 in 1969. She continued to play sporadically for the next several years, even winning the 1973 Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle (now the ANA Inspiration), but she withdrew from public life in 1973.
Nevertheless, her love for the game never tired, as she told Yocom, and continued to play recreationally.
“I still love swinging a golf club more than just about anything,” Wright told Yocom. “For years after my last competitive appearance in 1995, I’d hit balls from my porch. When the USGA Museum put together the Mickey Wright Room in 2011 and needed a few mementos, I sent, among other things, the little swatch of synthetic turf. I hit balls off it one last time and figured that was it.
“Then some good friends of mine in Indiana heard about it and sent me a brand-new practice mat. You know how it works: Put out a mat, some balls and a club in front of a golfer, and the temptation to use them is going to be too much. So I keep my hand in, five or six balls at a time. Just enough to remain a ‘golfer.'”
Wright’s attorney Sonia Pawluc told the AP that Wright had been hospitalized for the past few weeks in Florida after an injury from a fall.
“Theres got to be golf in heaven,” Wright told Yocom. “I hope I get there and that it’s just me and my 2-iron. Or maybe a couple of angels will be looking on. Everything will look like Sea Island Golf Club did in the old days, sedate and beautiful. I’ll be facing that shot to a well-trapped green again, trying to duplicate that shot from 1957. If it’s really heaven, I’ll pull it off.”