Mickey Wright was the ultimate benchmark for women's golf - her death deserves far more attention




 

I failed in my role as golf correspondent on Monday. I missed the death of Mickey Wright and it went unrecorded in Telegraph Sport.

In mitigation, I was in a motorhome trying to avoid the floods around the River Severn, but there is no excuse. In the women's game, Wright is high in the argument of greatest of all time. She was Serena Williams, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Mia Hamm...

If that freakish all-rounder Babe Didrikson Zaharias must be considered the most talented women ever to pick up a golf club and Annika Sorenstam is regarded as the female modern great, then Wright might be considered the ultimate benchmark.

The Californian who was born Mary Kathryn, but whose nickname never left her, is second on the female all-time list of majors won (13) and of LPGA Tour titles won (82). Yet the truly incredible fact was that she achieved all of this despite being forced to retire from full-time golf at 34. By any token, Wright is a sporting legend.

So why the absurd paucity of coverage in the British media? Telegraph Sport was not alone in overlooking the 85-year-old's fatal heart attack on the weekend, and if you are looking for the scale of the challenge the professional women's games faces in attracting the exposure it craves in this country, then look no further.

If it is true that one can tell how much an individual was loved and admired when they pass, then it also follows that it is possible to deduce the popularity of the hero's line of work. In truth, Wright warranted a tribute in each and every sports section.

As ever in this pursuit of aesthetics it was not merely Wright's prolificacy that made her stand alone at the end of the Fifties and the first half of the Sixties, but the style with which she graced the fairways.

When experts are asked who possessed the sweetest swing in history, the answer is invariably Ben Hogan. However, the grim-faced icon of the professional textbooks saw it differently. "Mickey had the finest golf swing I ever saw," Hogan said.

Her contemporaries concurred. Kathy Whitworth holds the record with 88 Tour wins, but even she was quick to doff her visor. "She was the best I've ever seen, man or woman," she said. "I've played with Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer… all of them. Nobody hit it like Mickey. She'd have won over 100 titles no problem if she'd just stayed on tour."

The achievements of a great golfer are never merely imparted in black and white, in garlands awarded or glory earned. Perhaps more than any other, it is a game of anecdotes and in those male-obsessed clubhouses the prowess of a woman inevitably - and yes, depressingly - is qualified by how they measured against the men.

Unlike Sorenstam, who made headlines across the globe when appearing on the PGA Tour in 2003, or indeed Zaharias who made three straight cuts on the circuit in 1945, Wright eschewed the hype of that particular limelight. Instead, it was at the inaugural Tall City Women's Open in 1964 where her immortality in spike bars everywhere was confirmed.

Off the same tees and in the same conditions at Hogan Park a few days before, the best male amateurs had managed no better than a 69 between them. Wright shot a 62 to overcome an 11-shot deficit - and then birdied the two holes of a sudden-death play-off to prevail. What made it all the more remarkable was that the course record was 66.

At that moment, Wright was peerless. Consider that it has taken Woods 24 years to win 15 majors and 82 PGA Tour wins. Wright assembled her similar feats across 14 seasons. Foot ailments ultimately saw her limp away, but friends confirmed that as a shy person the pressures took their toll. She was not the type to sing her own praises, but that does not mean golf's chroniclers should also remain humble about Wright's greatness. Her memory deserves every column inch it receives. And way, way more.

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