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."
Maybe. Maybe not. "You know when I had that 68 at St. Pete," she said the other day, "it really made my trip to Florida. I could have shot 75-75 after that and...well, maybe not have been pleased but not have been angry. As it was, I shot a 74 the last round. A year ago I would have had a golf club up until midnight. I've changed." Still, it is probably best that no one was there to see if she had the club up all night at Delray the next week when she followed her first-round 68 with a second-round 78—a score caused by some wild hooks that may be a continuing problem because of her weak wrist.
Ask Mickey Wright what pleases her now and she will say, "Appreciation. I think that I have become old enough and mature enough to help someone. I want to stay in the sport, in some area of golf. Maybe teaching. I think that could be satisfying."
"Aw," says Lenny Wirtz, "I can't see her down in Dallas watching some fat old lady swing and swing and swing. She's too impatient." But patience is what Mickey claims she has found. For the first time she is looking at golf as a lifelong career. "A man who runs a drug-store," she says, "works out his life there. My 84-year-old father has practiced the same kind of law since he started. People don't question if that can be enough of a life. Professional sports should be like any other career. I think it's a shame for a football player to spend six or seven years in the pros and then turn around and take up insurance and make use of the name he made in sport in another way. He's cheating himself and others, too. He learned to be the best at what he did. It's too bad when he doesn't stick with it, as a coach or something."
The return of Mickey Wright, new philosophy or old, has already had its effect on the ladies' tour. As of last Sunday she had played in three tournaments, finished third, third, first, and won $3,020. The confidence that her challengers had built up in her absence has dwindled, and suddenly that extra $1,000 they had grown accustomed to cutting up each week is gone. The press wants to talk to Mickey, and the crowds follow her, and it is hard on the sell-esteem of all the others.
Yet it is particularly fitting that she has found a way to remain in golf. A week ago Carol Mann, who won the U.S. Women's Open after Mickey quit, said: "Psychologically, Mickey Wright is a great standard. She is the standard. When some of us were winning last year, we would wonder—we wouldn't dwell on it, but we'd wonder—if she had been here, would we have won?"
No need to wonder now, ladies. Mickey Wright is back.