When it came to golf swings, Mickey Wright had few peers. Hall of Famers Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson each praised the tall blonde from San Diego.
“Greatest golf swing I ever saw,” Hogan, a four-time U.S. Open champion, once told the USGA’s Rhonda Glenn. “Boy, what a swing.”
“For the sheer fundamentals,” Nelson once told Glenn, on the best golf swing he had ever seen, “I’d say Mickey Wright.”
That fluid, rhythmic move helped Wright win 82 LPGA Tour titles. To date, she is the only woman to have held all four major championship titles at once, a feat she accomplished in 1961 and- 1962.
But it was in 1958, at Forest Lake Country Club in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., that Wright claimed the first of her four U.S. Women’s Opens, a record total she shares with Betsy Rawls, another Hall of Famer.
Wright led every round of the 1958 championship, shooting 74-72-70-74 for a championship-record, 2-under total of 290, five strokes ahead of runner-up Louise Suggs. The previous mark of 291 had been established four years earlier by Babe Zaharias. At 23, Wright also became the youngest Women’s Open winner to date.
Entering the championship, Wright had already established herself as one of the tour’s best players, having won the LPGA Championship by eight strokes for the first of her 13 career major titles.
“It was the best putting I’ve ever done in my life,” Wright said after the championship. “And I drove the ball real well, too; longer than I’ve driven it in a long, long while.”
But on the eve of the Women’s Open, Mother Nature threw a wrinkle at the competitors. Michigan was doused by heavy rains and practice rounds were cut short due to the conditions.
Wright’s opening-round of 74 was, therefore, one of the better scores on a day when only 16 of the 54 competitors broke 80.
The winds abated for the second round and 24 sub-80 rounds were registered, though only two players bettered the par of 73. Fay Crocker of Uruguay played the day’s best round, a 5-under 68, three strokes better than the 18-hole Women’s Open record. However, the 1955 Women’s Open champion had opened with a 79, so she couldn’t wrestle the lead away from Wright, who turned in a 1-under 72 to hold a one-shot lead over Crocker. Suggs, the 1949 Women’s Open champion, stood three strokes back at 149 following a 74.
On the 36-hole final day, Wright was off the tee at 8:18 a.m., and she didn’t waste any time attacking the course. On the par-5 fifth hole, Wright knocked a 5-iron to 4 feet. She missed the eagle, but added four more birdies for a third round of 3-under 70 and a 54-hole total of 216. Wright now led Crocker by seven strokes and Suggs by eight.
As Wright ran away to victory, the final round that Saturday afternoon turned into a race for second place, which was won by the 34-year-old Suggs.
Wright cruised home with a final-round 74 and hoisted the trophy, which she would do three more times in her career. She retired to her nearby hotel and slept 15 hours before taking in a Sunday afternoon movie.
The next year at Churchill Valley Country Club in Pittsburgh, Wright became the first player to successfully defend the Women’s Open. She would win her third Women’s Open in 1961 and a fourth in 1964. She nearly claimed a fifth title in 1968, but Susie Maxwell Berning edged her by three strokes.
Last year, the USGA dedicated a room in its museum to Wright, the first for a female golfer.
During a telephone interview with TheNew York Times last year, Wright was asked what the greatest feeling was. She said, succinctly, “Winning.”
And with that iconic swing, she won plenty.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.