Mickey Wright, the best woman golfer of all time, is an Alexander the Great in Bermuda shorts. She is only 29, but for her there are very few records left to break, frontiers to push back or worlds to conquer. It wearies her, it depresses her. A couple of weeks ago she confided in the director of the Ladies PGA tour, Lennie Wirtz, that she was in a mood to retire.
"You can't," Wirtz protested, dismayed at the mere thought of the tour's biggest gate attraction vanishing from the scene. "There's a lot you haven't done yet. You don't even hold the record for the lowest 18-hole score."
So the other day it happened that Mickey Wright walked off the 18th green of the Hogan Park Golf Course in Midland, Texas in a daze, but not in too much of a daze to go to a pay phone and call Lennie Wirtz.
"You know that scoring record?" she said. "Mr. Wirtz, I've got it now."
November 23, 1964
What she had done was shoot a nine-under-par 62 that broke the old LPGA record of 64 held by Patty Berg and Ruth Jessen. She set the mark on a testing 6,286-yard course where the men's record is 66. Some of the best male amateurs in Texas had played from the same tees in a tournament three days before, and the lowest scores were three 69s. Mickey herself had done no better than a 73 and a 72 in the first two days of what was officially called the Tall City Open. Thus her 62 stands, without ifs, ands or buts, as the finest round of golf ever played by a woman.
Nor did her day end there. Her 62 only enabled her to tie Sherry Wheeler for first place in the tournament. Mickey went back out and birdied two straight holes to win a sudden-death playoff.
Mickey Wright is tall and blonde and she wears crisp, neat blouses, crisp, neat shorts, and crisp, neat eyeglasses. On a golf course she appears to be all business, like an upper-echelon executive's thoroughly efficient secretary. But in reality she is leaping from emotional cloud to emotional cloud. She is such a long hitter, so accurate and so dedicated to the game, that many observers are surprised she does not win every tournament she enters. For Mickey Wright, however, the toughest person to beat has always been Mickey Wright.
"Sometimes I lose control of my emotions so completely," she has said, "that I don't even know where I am or that it's me hitting the ball."
The other week at Midland the emotional barometer had swung to another extreme. An inner voice was not only telling her where she was but that she could break the scoring record.
"It sounds cuckoo," she said later, "but I remember it clearly. I'd say to myself: 'O.K., don't let it slip away a shot at a time. You have an opportunity to shoot a really great round. Work hard. Bear down. Keep going.' "
Ordinarily Mickey keeps her emotions to herself, but on this Sunday she was feeling so high that she had to share the exhilaration with the crowd that followed her. "I don't usually emote much in public," she said, "but for some reason, after the first few holes, I'd grin and laugh each time I tapped a putt in. And the crowd really seemed to be with me. I've never felt so much electricity. Between shots the gallery was so quiet I could hear myself breathe."
On the first tee Sunday morning she had stood 11th in the tournament, 10 shots behind the leader, Kathy Whit-worth. She had only the barest hope of materially improving her position. Practically every hole on the Hogan Park course is a dogleg. The rough is sage, mesquite and sand, the greens large and fast. Mickey had gambled recklessly in her two previous rounds, trying to cut the corners of the doglegs but ending up in the sage-strewn rough instead. Now she resolved to play safe and keep the ball in the fairway.
On the first hole, a 457-yard par-5, she reached the green with a second shot that stopped only 18 inches from the pin for an easy eagle 3. She birdied the second hole with a tight wedge shot and the third with a 15-foot putt. This was a very fast start, but clubhouse grillrooms echo with stories about golfers who have started fast on the first three holes and fizzled on the next 15. Mickey Wright's round went into the golfing equivalent of overdrive on the 4th hole. To make another birdie she had to roll her 25-foot putt into a cup that was on the side of a mound.
"Son of a gun, it went right in," she said later. "Now I started getting scared. I knew I was onto something."
She certainly was. She had had many rounds like this before, when every drive was prodigiously long, when every iron shot bore directly toward the flagstick. But this day, for a change, her putting matched the rest of her game. After four pars, she rolled in a birdie putt of 12 feet on the 9th green. Her outgoing 30 tied the LPGA record. On the 10th she hit a deft, courageous sand wedge off bare dirt to set up another birdie, and her momentum carried her smoothly past the only bogey of the day, on 11, where she missed the green with a five-iron and chipped weakly. She birdied the par-4, 407-yard 14th with a 15-foot putt, and another putt of 15 feet gave her a birdie on the 15th. Her last birdie came at the 17th, where she tapped in a curling, eight-foot downhiller. Now she even had a chance to win the tournament.
"Not until I stood on the 18th green," she said, "did it enter my mind that I could win." The record had been in her mind all along—which shows what interests Mickey Wright these days. She two-putted for a par on the 18th and then brought herself down to 11 under par for the day with the birdies on the two extra holes.
Mickey has only the barest recollection of accepting the winner's check of $1,350. She was in a warm fog, and the mist did not clear until the next day as she cruised along the highway toward Dallas in her new sedan. She put on the brakes, swung the car onto the gravel parking lot of a roadside cafe and fished in her purse for a piece of scratch paper. Most touring golf professionals can recall for years even the very routine rounds, club by club and putt by putt, but Mickey was not about to trust her precious 62 to anything so capricious as memory. She found a letter and on the back of it jotted down the numbers of every club she had used, every shot of her glorious round. Now the challenge falls to LPGA Director Wirtz. When Mickey feels in a mood to retire again, what can he tell her?