Far Hills, N.J. – On a sun-struck evening at the USGA Museum, more than 100 present-day players paid tribute to one of golf’s great champions at the official opening of the Mickey Wright Room.
It was the Players’ Dinner for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, which is being played this week at Neshanic Valley Golf Course in nearby Neshanic Station.
At any USGA Players’ Dinner, contestants congregate for the social kick-off to a week of intense competition. Some things are constant. Without their visors and ponytails, players gleam. The WAPL Championship Committee members circulate through the crowd. Tables are festooned with flowers. The food is good.
The 2012 WAPL Players’ Dinner was special for a couple of reasons. One was that the Mickey Wright Room was officially opened for business and the players walked through it as if in church. Wide-eyed, they pointed at the artifacts of Wright’s glorious career. In hushed whispers, they spoke of the films of the icon’s magnificent swing.
It was a unique night in another way: There was a pep talk from three-time Women’s Open champion and Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam. Sorenstam, who also spoke here at Golf House for the Players’ Dinner for the 2009 U.S. Junior Championships conducted down the road at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, dealt with practical matters, the tips that a player most wants to hear. She spoke of patience and practice, setting goals and correcting flaws. If they could have, the players would have taken notes. As it was, they paid rapt attention and then crowded around Sorenstam for photographs.
Between them, Wright and Sorenstam won eight USGA Championships. After winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1952, Wright won four U.S. Women’s Opens before the age of 30. Sorenstam won the Women’s Opens three times. The last, a great playoff victory at Newport (R.I.) Country Club, came in 2006.
In the years from 1952 through 2006, Wright and Sorenstam no doubt embrace the most progressive era of women’s championship golf.
But the powerful games of Wright and Sorenstam were similar only in their productive end results. Wright hit her soaring shots with great artistry and rhythm. Sorenstam kept her head down and played with gritty precision.
A few things they share: Both sought to be the best. Both hit thousands of balls. Both worked diligently to bring their short games into line with their ball-striking. Both were shy and reveled in the solitude of the middle of the fairway.
On Saturday, Sorenstam paid tribute, saying that while Wright was a magnificent player she also knows that Wright is a wonderful person. Mickey would have liked that.
Players’ Dinners at USGA championships celebrate the game. Some occasions, such as this one, also honor a great champion. After the gleaming white dining tent has come down and the white chairs have been stacked and hauled away, the Players’ Dinner becomes about the future. What’s to come? Who will play? Who will win?
A couple of 14-year-olds were there last night. A 12-year-old is in the WAPL field. One contestant is 63. They’ll have their own say about the future of the magnificent game because, just as golf belongs to great champions, it also belongs to them.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.