All she did was put everything she had into the shot, then move on. When the football writers, stuck covering golf in their off-season, would ask her to go through her entire card—often a 69 or a 68 during her prime, on two occasions a 62—she hated it. She couldn't remember the shots, well-played or not. They didn't matter. All that mattered to Mickey Wright was the next shot.
Bad feet, a chronically injured wrist, 11 pairs of shoes, two dozen pairs of Bermuda shorts, seven cocktail dresses, the hopes of the sponsors, the demands of the writers, the anxiety before teeing off late on a Sunday afternoon—she hauled around a lot of stuff. But she coped, she coped. From 1955 to 1980 Wright won 82 times on the LPGA tour, 13 of those in majors. No golfer, man or woman, has dominated an era the way Wright did hers. No golfer ever swung a club the way she did, every part of her swing ideal, the sum of those parts perfection. Ben Hogan, Wright's match in the pursuit of precision, said in 1989, "She had the finest golf swing I ever saw."
All the time she knew, as few do, that she was working her way toward a final swing. She spent much of her career anticipating it and a smaller portion welcoming it. She was a realist.
That final swing came five years ago, and of that shot she has total recall. "I was playing in the Sprint Senior Challenge at the LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach, in 1995," she said one recent morning. She is 65 now. She'd already had her morning coffee, smoked several cigarettes and read The Wall Street Journal, which arrives at the day's first light, when Wright rises. "On the last hole, a par-5, I hit a pull-hook drive into the rough. The ball was way above my feet. There was water left of the green and traps on the right. I used a four-iron. I wanted to work the heel of the club through the ball and hit the inside part of the ball. The ball sailed, nice and high. I liked to hit the ball high. I two-putted for a birdie. It was a wonderful way to go out." She has not played a round of golf since.
She is on the phone. Those are the ground rules. You can talk to her on the phone. You can write her, and she'll write back. But you can't see her. She sees the people she wants to see, and she doesn't want to see anybody she doesn't know. Wright seldom leaves Port St. Lucie, Fla., where she lives in a modest white stucco house with a backyard that abuts the Club Med Sandpiper Sinners Golf Course.
Last January the LPGA celebrated its 50th anniversary with a glittering dinner at The Breakers, in Palm Beach, an hour south of Wright's home. Virtually every living LPGA star, past and present, was there. Mickey Wright was not. She does not do dinners, unless they are her own. She eats breakfast at 6:30 a.m, lunch at 11 a.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. She has her habits and her routines, but she does not, she says, wash her hands "50 times a day." She follows the stock market, plays poker and canasta with her friends and spends time with her longtime housemate and best friend, Peggy Wilson, with whom she played the tour. The house in Port St. Lucie is their second together, going back 28 years.
Wright also watches a lot of golf on TV. The U.S. tours—the men, the women, the old guys—frustrate her. She'll see a poorly played chip shot or a lapse in concentration and turn off the box. She prefers European tour golf, which she regards as more varied, rugged and creative, and follows it on The Golf Channel. Wright herself shows up on the channel, but only—to the frustration of its producers—in clips from the game's past.
"When we started in January 1995, we drew up a dream list of guests," says Peter Kessler, the host of Golf Talk Live. "There are only two people from that list we haven't had on: Ben Hogan—who even then was in poor health and who has since died—and Mickey Wright. We've mailed her tapes of my work, had people call on our behalf. We've told her she could dictate all the terms. Nothing. I would love to ask her, 'What's the most important thing in the golf swing?' And then listen to her answer. That would mean everything to me."
If you want that question answered, she refers you to her book, Play Golf the Wright Way, a 96-page classic published by Doubleday in 1962 that's still available in its second printing. The guts of it may be found in two lines on page 92: "This is my anodyne for your future in golf. You will be better if you practice and you won't be if you don't? The italics are hers. The last three lines of the book border on haiku:
"I think and do everything just the way I have said.