FAR HILLS, N.J. – Locked away behind two sets of gray steel double doors in the basement of the USGA Golf Museum and Library, Mickey Wright’s life was laid out on a long white table. If that sounds cold and impersonal, rest assured it was not.
There was only one trophy on the table – from her 82nd and final victory on the LPGA at the 1973 Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle. That particular piece of hardware once sat on her desk with a USGA Christmas ornament dangling from it.
Wright, who died in February, three days after her 85th birthday, loved the USGA. From the four USGA stickers on her Mercury Grand Marquis to the countless pieces of memorabilia that she kept – including two U.S. Senior Women’s Open trophy pins from championships that she did not play.
The four-time U.S. Women’s Open winner loved the USGA so much, in fact, that she bequeathed her entire estate to the organization and asked that her ashes be placed beneath the bay window of the Mickey Wright Room, which opened in 2012. Wright never visited the room but kept a scrapbook of articles that were written about it.
When museum director Hilary Cronheim first entered Wright’s modest South Florida home two weeks after her death, she thought she might find additional medals or trophies for the existing exhibit. But she didn’t. Those had already been archived. What Cronheim and her colleagues instead found was the rest of Mickey, the untold story of the intensely private champion.
“She had this reputation of being a hermit toward the end of her life,” said Cronheim, “and when we were down there in her home, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Wright died of a heart attack on Feb. 17, several weeks after being hospitalized for a fall. The mystery novel that she’d been reading was still on her bed, next to her pajamas and a pair of neatly folded socks.
“It was a lot to walk into,” said museum curator Rosemary Maravetz.
Three USGA colleagues carefully sorted through the possessions of Wright and her longtime companion Peggy Wilson, a former LPGA player who now resides in an assisted living facility.
Mickey Wright artifacts as seen at USGA Museum on October 19, 2020. (Copyright USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)
Some of the best discoveries were made inside Wright’s shed, surrounded by mounds of potting soil. Wright loved Bonsai trees. So many Ross Perot buttons and posters were found that it looked like she’d once campaigned for the two-time presidential candidate. Handmade clothes indicate that Wright might have been a seamstress. She was most certainly a sculptor and, by the looks of it, their beloved cat “Pie” was a suitable model.
Wright enjoyed fishing behind her house as well as in the ocean. A wearable tackle box sat on the museum’s working table near several strands of pearls. Her favorite shade of Revlon lipstick was Love that Pink, and the meticulous champion had stockpiled 10 tubes of it.
Wright carefully charted everything, from her calorie intake to a stock’s performance, the latter with hand-drawn graphs. She was particular about wanting her desk taken up to Far Hills. They also took the adding machine, a lamp, a 2014 Curtis Cup mouse pad and stacks of ledgers. She’d often write to the authors of the investment books she read seeking advice.
Mickey Wright’s personal notes and letters along with “Play Golf the Wright Way” as seen at USGA Museum on October 19, 2020. (Copyright USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)
A green Titleholders jacket hung in her closet. One of her books, “Play Golf the Wright Way,” was opened up to a spread showing her driver sequence. Wright filled up notebooks with swing thoughts and kept dozens of VHS tapes of her golf highlights. She even had a professional studio preserve certain clips, giving future generations priceless footage of a swing Ben Hogan once lauded as the best in golf.
Wright certainly carried on a full life after golf, but it was clear that she was still very proud.
There were notes on the “history and feelings of a slump and recovery therefrom.” On hotel stationary from 1962 she wrote, “A swing has its own pace. Don’t create one for it.”
Wright liked to hit balls from an artificial green mat behind her house. She donated that mat to the USGA years ago, but then apparently went out and bought another one. Her red shag bag, white golf shoes and a rusty spectator seat were found in the laundry room.
Her sacks of correspondence included a letter from the LPGA in 1989 addressing her medical insurance; Christmas cards from Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and Lucy Li; and her parents’ marriage license. Black-and-white photos of a pudgy “Baby Girl Wright” were scooped up along with albums of snapshots from over the years.
There are pictures of Kathy Whitworth over at the house hitting balls. Golf historian Rhonda Glenn was there, too. Wright kept a record of their conversations on microcassette audio tapes.
Oh, to imagine the stories we’ve yet to hear.
Wright’s extensive collection of 45 RPM records were kept in a traveling case one has to assume she took on tour. A stack of LPGA membership cards included her original from 1955. Next to a Wilson staff bag by the vault door sat two blue hard-shell suitcases with LPGA logos and bag tags from long-ago flights to Tampa and Miami.
Mickey Wright’s LPGA Luggage as seen at USGA Museum on October 19, 2020. (Copyright USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)
Wright knew that her place in the game and her personal story would be safe with the USGA. The three women tasked with sorting through sock drawers and closets in search of both the everyday and extraordinary treasures of a sporting legend, took their job seriously. At times, it felt invasive. Deeply emotional, too.
When they’d finished, the trio went out to Wright’s back patio to watch the sunset, reflect and toast a woman that they, like so many, had never met in person.
Thanks to this great and final gift to the game, however, she no longer remains a mystery.