The boss is back, so Alice-sitting is now a relaxed affair for me, knowing that the responsibility lies elsewhere. However, (oh, how I used to love a/an ‘however comma’) it’s obviously left its mark because I woke up yesterday morning feeling strangely disconcerted. What on earth had happened? Then I realised that I’d been dreaming, which is unusual for me – or at least remembering dreams is; that’s Maureen’s forte. She has the most weird and wonderful dreams and astonishing recall.
Anyway, I realised that I’d been in the middle of a very large, very green field – an estate really – and was looking around helplessly for a black labrador. They stand out well against the grass but all I could see was this expanse of green with nary a sign of a dog of any colour….Another case of the missing lab. Deja vu all over again….
I promised I’d write a bit about Mickey (Mary Kathryn) Wright this week, not because I knew her – sadly – but because I knew of her and her friends and contemporaries would need no encouragement to sing her praises both as a player with few equals but, much more importantly, as a person of intelligence and warmth. It’s all very well hitting the heights of your chosen profession, breaking all records and doing the “Look, Ma, top of the world” stuff but what’s it for, really, if you’re an arrogant git or, worse, an unmitigated shit? No names, no pack drill.
Few people, I suppose, are unloved by all and sundry and you might argue that heroes, especially sporting ones, don’t have to be good people, let alone loveable but I think it helps. I gave up having heroes after the embarrassment of nearly demolishing a radio studio trying to shake hands with Pat Jennings but it’s still heart-warming to learn that he’s a lovely bloke.
Mickey was a golf tragic – besotted with the game and the pursuit of the perfect swing and she achieved it, as near as dammit. Kathy Whitworth, who went on to win more tournaments – 88 to Wright’s 82 – had no doubts. “To my mind, and in many people’s mind, Mickey was the greatest player that ever lived. She certainly had the greatest golf swing and Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Tom Watson said the same thing. Her execution was just so near perfect in such an imperfect world……When you could hear the ball leave the club face and see it, you just were dumbfounded, it was so great to watch. You knew you were playing with someone far superior.”
Betsy Rawls, another noted technician, whose record of four US Women’s Open titles was matched by Wright, was also a fan. “Mickey set a standard of shotmaking that will probably never be equalled. Her swing was as flawless as a golf swing can be – smooth, efficient, powerful, rhythmical and beautiful. Her shots were something to behold.”
There were so many great, jaw-dropping shots but Whitworth loved one cracker in particular. Wright’s drive had ended up in the middle of the fairway but behind a large tree, with about 160 yards to carry to an elevated green. Don’t forget that this was in the days when clubs and balls were not the sophisticated, streamlined, super-engineered, sympathetic weapons that they are now. Most normal mortals would have had to engineer some sort of poke up the fairway for fear of hitting the tree on their follow through and damaging club, wrist, trunk, whatever. Wright, of course, was no normal golfing mortal.
“Mickey pulled out an iron,” Whitworth said, “made a full backswing, hit the ball just as hard as she normally would and stopped the clubhead at impact. Just POW! Hit the ball onto the green! And the funny thing was that I had seen her practise that shot!”
Wright, the perfectionist, who turned professional in 1955 at the age of 19, had lofty ambitions. “I’m going to win,” she said. “I’ll work harder and harder and I’m going to be the best woman golfer in the world some day.”
Throughout her career she sought out good teachers and put into practice what they taught her. Harry Pressler took her on when she was 13 – and she had consulted other good judges as to whether he was the teacher for her. Thereafter, she would refer to her swing as “Harry’s swing” or “the swing”. He taught her through repetition, putting her in the correct positions until she could “feel” her swing. He taught her to feel when the clubhead was square and how to shift her weight.
“It’s unbelievable how I took to Harry’s method,” Wright said. “Harry thought that a golf swing is a moving of the weight from the left foot to the right and a returning of the weight to the left foot. At the start of the downswing, the hands do nothing. They stay there and the weight moves across the right foot. All I ever did was just move the weight across the right foot. You coordinate that, it squares the clubhead and you’ll contact the ball squarely with a square clubhead. That’s really all there is to it but it took so much repetition.”
So, there you have it, a recipe for golfing genius……..
For those of you who’ve never heard of Mickey Wright, here are a few basic, mind-boggling stats: in 1960 she won six times; in 1961 she won 10 tournaments, including three of the four majors at that time; in 1962 she won 10 times, including four events in a row; and in 1962, she moved into overdrive with 13 wins; in 1964 her tally was 11 wins.
Later in life, she mused on the mental approach that saw her win such a ridiculous number of tournaments in such a ridiculously short time. “I hate to lose,” she said. “The perfectionist bit in golf doesn’t have as much to do with doing it perfectly as the total rejection and horror of doing it badly. And I don’t know which comes first or which is more important.
“Winning never really crossed my mind that much. It’s trite but I knew if I did it as well as I could, I would win. If I did as well as I could, it would have been better than anybody else did it and therefore it would win…..I look back on it like it’s somebody else. What amazes me is that I could have done it as long as I did.”
There’s much, much more if you want to learn about Mickey, a fascinating, complex character and I’m indebted to two great books for some of the tales: “The Illustrated History of Women’s Golf” by the late Rhonda Glenn (foreword, concise and to the point, by Mickey Wright) and Liz Kahn’s entertaining and illuminating book “The LPGA: The Unauthorised Version (with Liz it could have been nothing else), The History Of The Ladies Professional Golf Association”.
Trouble is, I open those books, start reading, become engrossed and forget that I need a good night’s sleep if I’m to be any use at all to my unfortunate bridge partner in the morning……
Finally, with thanks again to Wordsmith.org, I’ll leave you with this quote from Ralph Nader: “The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.”