Golf: Mickey Wright, one of the game's greatest women players with a long drive and super swing, dies at 85

The Mickey Wright room at the US Golf Association Museum in New Jersey, as seen on May 15, 2012. Wright dominated the LPGA Tour in the late 1950s and much of the 1960s. PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NEW YORK TIMES) - Mickey Wright, who won 82 LPGA tournaments, 13 of them Majors, and was perhaps the finest player in the history of women's golf, died on Monday (Feb 17) in Florida at the age of 85.

The cause was a heart attack, her lawyer, Sonia Pawluc, told The Associated Press. Wright had been hospitalised for the past few weeks after being injured in a fall.

A long hitter known for her compact and fluid swing, she dominated the LPGA Tour in the late 1950s and much of the 1960s. She was eclipsed in career victories only by Kathy Whitworth's 88 and in Major victories only by Patty Berg's 15.

Wright won both the US Women's Open and the LPGA Championship four times, and she captured the Western Open three times and the Titleholders Championship twice when they were Major events.

She was named the Woman Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press in 1963, when she won 13 LPGA tournaments, still a record for a single season, and in 1964, when she won 11 times.

Wright, in 1961 and 1962, and Tiger Woods, in 2000 and 2001, are the only golfers to have captured four consecutive Majors.

Wright's three women's Major victories in a single year (she won the US Women's Open, the LPGA Championship and the Titleholders in 1961) have been equalled only by Babe Zaharias (1950), Pat Bradley (1986) and Park In-bee (2013).

In December 1999, a six-member panel assembled by the AP voted Wright the top women's golfer of the 20th century, ahead of Zaharias and Whitworth.

Ben Hogan was often quoted as saying that Wright "had the finest golf swing I ever saw".

"She was the best I've ever seen, man or woman," Whitworth said in an interview for ESPN in 2015. "I've had the privilege of playing with Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and all of them. And some of our ladies had wonderful golf swings. But nobody hit it like Mickey, just nobody."

Wright spoke of a competitive fire that complemented that form.

"The great winners in golf - Hogan, Nicklaus, Jones, you might have to think about Tiger Woods - they were all great swingers, but their inner drive was off the charts, too," she told Sports Illustrated in 2000. Asked if she would include herself in that list, she replied, "Yes, I would."

Wright captured five straight Vare trophies for lowest scoring average on the tour (1960 to 1964) and she twice shot LPGA-record rounds of 62. She was inducted into LPGA Hall of Fame in 1964 and the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976.

"She sort of revolutionised golf for us because she was so good and her swing was so perfect," Betsy Rawls, who won eight Majors, told AP in 2006. "Even though we were competitors, she was a joy to watch."

Mary Kathryn Wright was born on Feb 14, 1935, in San Diego and was introduced to golf by her father, Arthur, a lawyer and a weekend player.

By age 14, immersed in golf lessons, she had begun developing her swing, keeping her wrist cocked as long as possible as she addressed the ball and staying away from an emphasis on arm motion, something that most women of the era used, resulting in relatively short drives and iron play.

"I swung the club," she told ESPN. "That's it. The key word is swing, not turn. Not ground your feet like they were in cement so your body doesn't move. That's not a swing to me."

She had an imposing physique even in her teens - she was 1.75m and 68kg in her prime - and, as she told Time magazine in 1963: "The kids at school called me Moose. I had a terrible inferiority complex. I needed something to show my prowess. Golf was it."

Wright won the US Girls' Junior Championship at age 17. She attended Stanford University for one year, majoring in psychology, and flourished in amateur events before turning pro late in 1954, having been tutored by teaching professional Harry Pressler. She won the Open and the LPGA Championship in 1958 and became the No. 1 figure in the women's game.

Except for a brief retirement in the mid-1960s, she played regularly on the tour until 1969. She captured her last tour victory in 1973.

Living in retirement in Port St Lucie, Florida, Wright seldom made public appearances in her later years.

"I don't hide out, put on sunglasses and pull a cap down when I go out or anything like that," she told Golf World in 2000. "I just like life simple."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.