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Almost as if it had never been missing, that headline is appearing again: MICKEY WRIGHT SHOOTS 68 TO.... The dateline changes—St. Petersburg, Fla., March 17... Delray Beach, Fla., March 25—but the story, like the headline, varies hardly at all. " Mickey Wright, off the women's golf tour most of last year with a wrist injury, shot a four-under-par 68 today...." And then last Sunday, over a Venice, Fla. dateline, the most familiar headline of all: MICKEY WRIGHT WINS BY SEVEN STROKES.
But the return of Mickey Wright to the sport she abandoned last June is more interesting than that, abandoned being a hard word and the correct one. Her wrist aches and swells even now, and if it had been the reason and not the excuse for her quitting professional golf nine months ago she would still be home in Dallas.
What was involved, then and now, is the 31-year-old blonde's attitude toward a game that she has dominated since 1961. The best woman golfer ever, she left the pro tour loathing it. She was determined to give her life new direction, new dimension. As surely as any housewife ever felt enslaved by her Hoover, Mickey Wright felt trapped by golf. So she quit.
Now she has had second thoughts. And third thoughts and fourth thoughts, too, if the truth be told. She has returned to work quietly and for reasons that have nothing to do with fame, money, honors or the glory of the grand old game. "I've had all that," she says. "Never again, for example, will I get myself into the position of being the leading money winner." Nor will she care about it, she adds. Which sounds as unlikely as 007 burning his kill card.
Mickey Wright believes that she has a new appreciation for golf and a new attitude toward it. She has put the two together like so many locking pieces of an abstract-art jigsaw puzzle. In the time she spent away from the game she decided, in a sense, that she can play competitive golf without winning. She came to realize that golf did not have to demand so much from her. "You know, I've never really enjoyed anything before," she said the other day in Florida. "I believed that you had to succeed, you had to work and work to be the best. You had to get better and better, always strive to improve. There was no joy in it. There's a whole big bunch to be said for doing things just for the joy of it. It's living."
Try as she may, it will be hard for Mickey to become a mouse on the pro tour. About the only way she can avoid being leading money winner is by playing with hickory shafts or by not appearing very often. She prefers the second alternative. She is planning to compete in only about 20 of the 34 tournaments on the LPGA tour. And, much to the consternation of tournament sponsors, she will leave until the last minute the decision on where she plays and where she doesn't. For years she was the ladies' tour, but no more. "If I don't play often," she says hopefully, "I think I'll be more of a face in the crowd. That's what I want."
The face-in-the-crowd philosophy has evolved because Mickey Wright is an introspective, proud, idealistic woman, not just an electric rabbit charged with winning every race. Last summer when she quit golf, she returned to college—she had spent one year at Stanford before turning pro—thinking that might satisfy her. "You hear so much about college," she says. "I felt the only way to prove my intelligence was to go to school and get a degree. I was really hung on it."
Because of her natural inclination for analyzing—herself, others and possibly the electric rabbit if she were put to it—she decided to take up psychology. Her analysis of analysis: "It did nothing for me."
But during the two semesters she spent at Southern Methodist University she developed a taste for security. The apartment she has shared for years with two other girls in Dallas had never been anything but a place to drop her golf clubs. "From the time I was 19 until I was 27, I wasn't smart enough to know I was missing anything in life," she says. "All I knew was the motel way of living."
Leonard Wirtz, tournament director, father confessor, diet dispenser and fashion critic of the girls' golf tour, calls Mickey's new attitude escapism but is so glad to have her back that he is escapism's biggest booster. "She doesn't want to think she's trapped out here on the tour," he says. "No girl wants to." Yet Wirtz is not convinced Mickey will be able to hold herself to a limited schedule. "She's stubborn. A lot will depend on how much she practices when she's not on the tour. I know Mickey Wright. She doesn't like to run second. Let her lose a while and she'll be out here a lot, playing like hell."