Some women are impossible to please. Take Mary Kathryn Wright, for instance. It should be enough to be young, to be blonde, to be prosperous, to be her country's top woman athlete, to play golf better than any woman ever has and to be the undisputed leader of that unique sporting sorority known as the Ladies Professional Golf Association. It should be enough, but it isn't, not by the length of one of Mickey Wright's tee shots hit downhill with the wind. This September, after 11 years as the world's most successful woman golfer, she plans to abandon a career worth $50,000 annually and start life over as a 30-year-old college sophomore.
This seems to make as much sense as trying to climb the Matterhorn on roller skates, but that is the way Mickey Wright thinks. To be interesting life must be a series of challenges, and if the challenges do not come to her she goes to them. As a result, she is a remarkable set of contrasts: on the surface as serene and cool as a college president's wife serving Sunday tea to the faculty, but all the while trying to decide whether to put Ac'cent or strychnine in the sugar bowl.
"I am caustic and hot-tempered," she says. "I want to say what I think. I can't do anything without wanting it perfect. I'm really very critical of everything. I am a perfectionist about others as well as myself, and I do not mind pointing out imperfections when I see them. I feel I have to. But I have also learned that a public image has to be better than just plain human."
Being just plain human has put some tarnish on Mickey's public image from time to time. She has thrown clubs and tantrums, kicked at bushes and told off tournament directors and photographers in graphic, articulate language. But there is a great deal more to her than an occasional flash of Tommy Bolt.
"Mickey is the opposite of what Babe Zaharias was, for instance," says Betsy Rawls, who earned a Phi Beta Kappa key at the University of Texas and is Mickey's closest friend on the ladies' golf tour. "Babe relished all of the publicity she got. She would go out of her way to get it. She loved to clown in front of big crowds—a real show-off. She dominated any group she was in simply because she wanted attention and wanted her way. Mickey can dominate any group, too, but in a much more intellectual way. She starts interesting conversations and keeps them going. She draws others out. But, unlike Babe, Mickey has never felt at ease with large groups of strangers."
"That is right," says Mickey. "I do not enjoy all the things that go with being a champion. I very much want adulation while I am on the golf course, but not anywhere else. It seems to embarrass me. I feel I have to turn myself on all the time."
Mickey did not begin to think about turning herself on until she had an explosive run-in with a tournament official at the Triangle Round Robin in 1957. A round-robin tournament is a statistical nightmare in which a player's success is determined not just by what score he shoots but by how badly the competitors in his foursome play. A sudden substitution in her group for the last round was unfair, Mickey thought, because it involved replacing a slumping player with an alternate likely to shoot a better round, thus making it more difficult for the others in the foursome to score points. When she came off the last green having lost the tournament by one point to Fay Crocker—but having beaten Fay by five strokes on her own score—Mickey was mad enough to bite a two-iron in half. She swore, she stamped, she kicked at bushes, and when she finally located the tournament official who had made the change in pairings, the late John McAuliffe, she hit him with a broadside worthy of a man-of-war. The LPGA tournament committee fined Mickey $100 for her outburst and told her she would have to make a personal apology to McAuliffe or she would be suspended.
"When I got the word about what I had to do," says Mickey, "my first reaction was, 'I won't do it. I'm right, McAuliffe's wrong.' Then I started to think about it. I finally realized I had made a complete fool out of myself by displaying my emotions. You can't just act the way you feel. It was an enlightening and at the same time disillusioning experience. I had learned that it was unrealistic to try and stick to what I considered my high principles—to be what I felt like being."
The outgrowth of this incident was the establishment of what Mickey considers the ideal public image for her and, though her version of a living doll has been most successful, it suits her about as well as a hair shirt. She is, or, to be more accurate, she acts, bland, pristine and innocuous.
"I want everyone to think I am just a nice, charming girl," she attempts to explain. "No, that is not exactly what I want either, but something like that. It is something I like to see in other people, anyway. I do not know Byron Nelson, but he seems to have the kind of thing I have in mind for myself. He seems calm and friendly and charming. At least, this is the personality that Nelson shows to the public. No, it's stronger than that. I find it very hard to describe an image. I want to be someone who could be respected because of, well, maybe impeccable behavior, or for having a kind of detachment, or for gracious manners, but not a snob. My gosh, this sounds too Olympian. Not cold, but...."