Mickey Wright won five USGA championships during her legendary career: the 1952 U.S. Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Women’s Open in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1964. We recently asked her to write about the beauty of golf for our monthly series, “It’s About the Game,” and we are thrilled that she agreed to do so.
I suppose the appropriate place to start, in discussing love of, respect for and views on the game of golf is at the beginning.
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Mickey and I’m a golf addict.
My addiction started 66 years ago on the practice tee at La Jolla Country Club. I believe I had to be the luckiest young lady in the world to have started playing on the most beautiful course in Southern California while at the same time being able to watch the silky smooth swing of Gene Littler as he hit practice balls where I was learning the game.
The practice tee was ringed by fragrant eucalyptus trees from which my first instructor, Johnny Bellante, cut a switch, handed it to me and said, “Swing this and make it sing.” It was an easy way to learn the conservation of energy and the principle of clubhead speed. That was the start of a lifetime of challenges and the search for ever elusive perfection. To this day, whenever I smell the fragrance of eucalyptus, it takes me back to those first days of learning the golf swing.
My father put a USGA book on the Rules of Golf in my hand when I was 11. This started the learning of the etiquette and principles of honor and respect called for in the playing of the game. Before allowing me on the course with him, he grilled me on the Rules and made me carry the book in my golf bag. My goodness, so much to learn. Could there ever be enough time to learn it all?
The wonder of the game is depicted by a few great writers. Herbert Warren Wind, Pat Ward-Thomas and Rhonda Glenn come to mind. Their obvious knowledge of the intricacies of the game only complemented their ability to portray the overall ethereal joy of swinging a golf club in the awesome setting of natural splendor that is a well-designed, well-kept, approximately 450 acres of trees, shrubs, sand, water and mown grass that we call a golf course.
To me, golf courses have always been particularly appealing very early in the morning, at first light when the fragrance of newly-mown grass, the early twitter of birds and the sheer freshness of the new day are especially invigorating.
For sheer beauty of surroundings, I suppose Pebble Beach and Cypress Point would get first prize, but for beauty within the course itself my choice is Augusta National, where you truly feel you are walking on hallowed ground.
I had the honor of playing Augusta National shortly after The Masters concluded in 1957. The azaleas were still in bloom and you felt as if you could hear the lingering echoes of the crowds down in Amen Corner. The history of the game and some of its greatest moments and heroes surround you and make you feel special just being there. That day, I had the thrill of meeting Bob Jones. Clifford Roberts drove him out to see us on the 10th green. Memorable.
The expression, “poetry in motion” best describes a golf swing of perfect tempo, timing and balance which allows the ball to be struck dead center. When you occasionally accomplish this you’ll enjoy an unmatched physical and mental joy.
Beauty being in the eye of the beholder is surely most true in appraising golf swings. My idea of rhythmic beauty in a golf swing would be spelled, “Louise Suggs.” For pure wild, joyous beauty it was Seve Ballesteros and for mechanical beauty, probably Ben Hogan.
Then, of course, there is another kind of golf beauty that has nothing to do with the swing but rather with the ability to get the ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes. The best examples of this unique talent were Betsy Rawls and Kathy Whitworth. They had a beauty of spirit and determination that never quit, rarely became discouraged and always kept their eye on the goal of scoring.
At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, which I am, I must speak of the game of golf in terms that I lived and loved, not in current-day terms, which I neither understand nor can relate to. In other words, “stack and tilt” is not a thing of beauty to me.
The outstanding beauty of the game of golf, I believe, is its complexity. In motion, you must be able to strike a small sphere with a two-to-four-inch block of wood or metal on the end of a 43-inch shaft while standing approximately 30 inches away from it, and do it in such a manner that the center of the clubface strikes the exact tangent point of the ball to send it in the direction chosen and with enough stored energy to send the ball a desired distance.
That, however, is but the start of the complex beauty of the game. Golf is indeed a game for patient problem solvers. The variables that need to be computed seem endless, yet within the space of 30 or 40 seconds you always come up with an answer: sometimes right, oftentimes not.
The process of hitting a shot begins by measuring the distance with your eyes (remember, this is 1961, not today). A toss of grass determines direction and velocity of the wind. The lie of the ball helps your club selection, along with the stored knowledge of how far you hit each club, which only comes from hours of practice. Now you may proceed to strike the ball. When it all computes perfectly, you indeed think of yourself as a da Vinci creating something beautiful. Alas, it is a fleeting joy.
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