Pixie-faced and blue-eyed, Mary Kathryn (Mickey) Wright is a tall blonde Californian who six years ago captured the USGA girls' junior championship; last week she added the Women's Open title to an assortment of honors that are bound to reach marvelous proportions before too many years have passed. Miss Wright, 23, features an almost unladylike ability to hit. Faced with the hilly Forest Lake Country Club course in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., 18 holes that favor the long hitter quite distinctly, she scored a remarkable 290, the lowest total posted since the USGA took over the sponsorship of this event in 1953.
"It was the best putting I've ever done in my life," she announced after the 72-hole tournament was over, "and I drove the ball real well, too. Longer than I've driven it in a long, long while." No one who watched her play will dispute those remarks. She used almost exactly 30 putts per round, and her drives were averaging in the neighborhood of 240 yards. Her playing partners were constantly struggling way back up the fairway trying to bang woods to the greens while Mickey would be hitting a crisp iron or even a wedge. So well did she play, in fact, that she finished a full five strokes ahead of runner-up Louise Suggs, trying to win her third Open, and seven strokes ahead of 43-year-old Fay Crocker, who won the title back in 1955.
Mickey has been playing golf since she was 12. In 1954 she was low amateur in Tam O'Shanter's All-American and World, was low amateur in the Women's Open and went to the finals of the National Amateur before losing to Barbara Romack 4 and 2. After such a wonderful year the urge to play more intensively became irresistible and she turned professional in the fall. Her career as a pro has certainly been a successful one, and prior to coming up to Michigan for the Open she had already won the ladies' PGA championship by six strokes over Miss Crocker.
During the first day's play scores were kept high by a frisky, fickle wind that puffed about the course, nudging golf balls in all directions. Mickey, with her great power, was able to punch the ball into the wind, but even she encountered difficulty in picking the right club. On the eighth hole, a 170-yard par 3, she wound up on the 11th green, some 30 yards off to the right and past. Coming downwind on the 11th she picked the wrong club again and this time finished back on the eighth green. She wound up with a 74.
To add to the ladies' difficulties, Michigan had been doused in rain for several days before the start of the tournament, and the playing of practice rounds was cut down to a minimum. On Wednesday only Jackie Pung, the good-natured Hawaiian who had to yield last year's Open championship on a scoring technicality, was resolute enough to play a full 18 holes, which she did in two installments. Jackie has been on a diet that has dropped her down to 185 pounds from a high of 225, and she felt it necessary to determine whether or not the new, svelte Pung figure could keep its accustomed traction on the damp and mushy fairways. Apparently it did, because Jackie ran up a first-round score of 75 under the difficult conditions and sat sturdily in a three-way tie behind Miss Wright with Louise Suggs and Betty Jameson.
Mickey Wright's 74 must be considered pretty fair workmanship, because by the time the last twosome had battled its way home only 16 of the 54 ladies were able to break 80 and only four of the 108 nines were played in subpar figures. It had been a pretty trying day for the girls, but when it was over, Miss Crocker and Roommate Marilynn Smith went out to play the first six holes again and Kentuckian Betty Dodd slouched around the clubhouse grill room before a large, appreciative audience hammering out rock 'n' roll on her guitar.
For the second round the wind abated somewhat and there were 24 sub-80 rounds, though only two were below the par of 73. One of these was an incredible 5-under-par 68 by Miss Crocker. It was three strokes below the previous USGA Open record. When her card, which included seven birdies, had been signed and handed in, Fay, 20 times champion of Uruguay, 14 times champion of Argentina and once champion of the U.S., sat in the pro shop, drinking beer from a large wax paper cup, and said: "I just went out there and hit every ball as hard as I could. After I'd played the first three holes in 4, 3, 2, I said to myself, 'Now the only thing left is a one,' but I got a 5 on the next hole, not a one."
Fay's was a truly remarkable and historic round, but added to her 79 of the first day it was not enough to wrest the lead away from the determined Miss Wright. The first-round leader turned in a very tidy 72. This gave her a 36-hole total of 146 and placed her one stroke ahead of the husky Miss Crocker. Louise Suggs had played a fine 74 and was three strokes back at 149.
Jackie Pung came in with a 77 for a two-round total of 152 and seemed out of it, while chunky Patty Berg, the strongest pretournament favorite, had been wandering about in the high 70s and finally found herself with a 10-stroke deficit that she had to carry with her into the final day's play.
On the morning of the last day Miss Wright, who was up early and off the tee at 8:18 a.m., sailed around the course, whacking out big drives and using only 28 putts. Not only was she long but she was pretty straight too. On the fifth hole she hit a three-iron to the green and missed her eagle putt from four feet. She picked up four more birdies after that and finished with a field-chilling 70 for a three-round total of 216. Fay Crocker came in with a 76 and a 54-hole score of 223. Louise Suggs was at 224. Mickey had a seven-stroke lead with 18 holes to play, and the fight was now for second place, which was eventually to go to 34-year-old Louise Suggs, who has been a professional for a decade now.
In third came Fay, and in fourth—with an even 300—was tiny Alice Bauer. And the low amateur medal went to 21-year-old Anne Quast, a Stanford University senior, who will likely receive a Curtis Cup invitation on the basis of her 307 showing.
So Mickey Wright won her first Open championship; it seems unlikely to be her last. As Forest Lake's fairways glowed orange under the setting sun, the new champion returned to her motel a few miles from the course for 15 hours of sleep and then a Sunday afternoon movie. In the ladies' locker room a Kentuckian who had finished 20th with a 317 could be heard singing the St. Louis Blues to the mournful accompaniment of her own guitar.
After the U.S. Open, the tourists started the long, hot summer circuit on two new courses with two new tournaments: the $52,000 Buick Open and the $50,000 Pepsi Open
The summer tour is notable this year as the richest and most attractive in history; its first two tournaments, both of them new, ambitious events which could easily become pleasant and rewarding fixtures—the $52,000 Buick Open at the Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club, Grand Blanc, Mich. and the $50,000 Pepsi Open at the Pine Hollow Country Club, East Norwich, N.Y.—are among the most heavily staked on the circuit.
The Warwick Hills course, two years ago chiefly inhabited by gophers, pheasants and rabbits, is the longest (7,280 yards) if not the most formidable of the tour. Although the fairways are still lightly grassed and the roughs not very, the tourists found it a challenging if somewhat monotonous (the greens are rather unimaginatively laid out) test of golf. Par for the Buick was 72, and Billy Casper Jr., the paunchy pro from Apple Valley, Calif., won first prize of $9,000 with a creditable 285.
Pine Hollow, on the other hand, was once the estate of Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, former Duchess of Marlborough. The course is only three years old but is both pretty and various. The pros found the sodded, uneven greens frustrating, but the course promises, like Warwick Hills, to become in time a first-rate championship layout. Par (71) was no problem there last week; Arnold Palmer, the Masters champion, took first prize (again $9,000) with 273.