The IX: Golf Thursday with Carly Grenfell, February 20, 2020

Remembering Mickey Wright — Interview with Kathy Whitworth — Must-click links in women's golf

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Remembering Mickey Wright

It’s been a relatively slow news week in women’s golf. But one happening that’s taken local, regional and national media outlets by storm is sadly the passing of LPGA legend Mickey Wright.

She passed away of a heart attack on Monday (Feb. 17) at the age of 85. She was often praised for her swing and astounding resume of victories that she tallied up before the age of 35. She retired early because of injury so unfortunately for her, winning so much in a short amount of time eventually took a toll on her physically. Ben Hogan said she had the “finest swing he ever saw.”

Boy, did she take the LPGA by storm over the span of her career. It’s hard to win once a year, let alone TEN, for four consecutive years. That’s actually one of the most impressive stretches in professional golf probably ever. Wright won a total of 82 times on the LPGA, which includes 13 Major Championships. According to an article from USA Today, tournament sponsors would threaten to cancel their events if Mickey Wright wasn’t in the field. But can you really blame them? During a time where purse money and exposure was even more of a challenge, you’d definitely want to be able to sell one of the best players in the tours history as playing your event.

She was a perfectionist at heart and wanted more and more each year, until eventually she couldn’t even keep up with herself. It’s sad that injury and burnout were the biggest reasons she hung it up in her 30s. As USA Today reports, she had won all four majors by time she was 27 and by age 28, she had won all four majors twice. I think when you make winning majors look easy, you’ve probably reached the pinnacle of your career! Considering the amount of sacrifice Wright made during her career in terms of just practicing and traveling alone, burnout doesn’t seem too far off.

You’d be surprised how much the topic of burnout comes up when I’m talking to guests on my podcast. Probably half of them have mentioned burnout when I ask them about their golf journey and the role golf plays in their life today. If you grow up always playing golf and especially if you try to pursue a career on the LPGA but don’t make it, the probability of burnout seems even higher. A lot of times, I think really talented junior golfers who feel like the LPGA is their only option end up running the other way. Golf is a sport that takes a toll on you in a way no other sport does it seems like. It’s mentally grueling, and especially if you aren’t experiencing a ton of success, even more exhausting.

Not to mention, it’s expensive. So at the start of pursuing a professional golf career, if you’re not making cuts, you don’t play your best during qualifying school or you’re going through an injury that prevents you from playing at all, you’re being set back financially too. And when you’re struggling financially, you’re probably even more stressed! I understand why burnout would be a topic of conversation and a common reason to quit, especially on the LPGA, more than I used to.

Wright’s explosion of success on the LPGA and how her career eventually fizzled out, by choice, is a really fascinating story. In a recent Golf Channel article by Randall Mell, he talks about how she pretty much kept her life hidden after retirement and especially so after the age of 60. Her burnout, from what I can piece together, seems like it stretched far beyond just golf. She was exhausted from being in the spotlight.

“I made a decision at age 60 that I just would not have any more pictures taken and would not do any more things,” Wright told Lerner. “I figured I had done what I needed to do. I’d played golf tournaments from the age of 15 at the USGA Junior to the age of 60 at the Sprint Senior tournament, and I had done a lot of speaking, and I figured that was enough. That’s all I wanted to do.” (via Golf Channel)

Other than the occasional phone interview and exchanging emails with media here and there, Wright was over it. She put her life and her whole heart and soul into the sport and by the end, knew she did her part for the game of golf. I have to agree with her. I respect that she not only gave so much to the sport, but had the strength and confidence to just stay true to herself amidst all the fame and attention afterwards. I could never speak to how it feels to experience that much success but I am sure some time to step away and breathe would be refreshing.

I’m glad this week has been filled with celebrating Mickey Wright and all that she did in golf. When I saw the USGA’s new maternity policy, the other big news to break this week, it was hard not to tie these two things together and think about what women’s golf would be like—had we not had women like Mickey paving the way. She was one of the best to ever play the game. And now in 2020, we can pick up where she left off in even bigger and better ways. When Suzann Pettersen went on maternity leave, her world ranking dropped to No. 620. For Stacy Lewis, she left for six months and her ranking dropped more than 20 spots. The new policy will eliminate this.

“The USGA has taken action to prevent players’ time away from prohibiting them from competing in their championships…female golfers will now have their Rolex Women’s Golf Ranking or World Amateur Golf Ranking “frozen” once they go on maternity leave. If that ranking earns a player an exemption into a USGA event while they’re away, the player will receive the exemption into the following year’s championship.” (via Golf Digest)

This is beyond great. Here’s to the past who opened doors. The present who are breaking glass ceilings. And to a future who won’t be satisfied.

This Week in Women’s Golf

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me!

More coronavirus troubles. LPGA Tour of Japan will play an event with no spectators.

RIP Mickey Wright—13-time Major Champion and LGPA legend.

Volvik announced as the title sponsor at the 10th annual Founders Cup.

After two years without a win, Inbee Park is in the winners circle yet again.

As coronavirus spreads, LPGA’ top Chinese players promise to help.

Latin American launches a new elite women’s golf amateur golf championship.

Marina Alex moving on from Gleneagles, career continues to soar.

USGA updates their maternity policy and it’s an awesome and significant one.

CBS is catching a lot of heat for their lackluster, mistake-ridden golf coverage.

Arkansas’ golf program has made Latin American golfers feel at home. Here’s how.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Kathy Whitworth

Who better to speak on Mickey Wright’s impact that one of her best friends and the winningest LPGA player in its history, Kathy Whitworth? She joined Golf Channel earlier this week.

I. On what separated Mickey from the rest: Mickey was head and shoulder above all of us. There are very few players that would even doubt that. Even Tom Watson and Ben Hogan and Byron (Nelson) who all got a chance to watch her play—she was just had the best golf swing they’d ever seen. I came out on top a few times against her, but most of the times it was just because she had a bad day.

II. On passing Mickey Wright on the all-time wins list and sending her roses afterwards: We talked on the phone. She was very gracious about it. She was very pleased for me. I hated to do it, but at the same time, I wanted to keep winning. I also knew that if Mickey had not quit when she did, at a very young age, she probably could have won 100 tournaments. It wasn’t that it put me ahead of her or I was better than her. Nobody was ever going to be better than her. Only longevity was on my side.

III. On becoming close friends with Mickey: We played an event together and that’s when we became a little closer. She was a very private individual. WAsn’t very public; didn’t seek like limelight. That’s why she didn’t do a lot of stuff. She was very interested and very much involved in following the LPGA and men’s golf. She had some great admirers on the men’s side too. Anybody that played with her—they know what I’m saying.

IV. On Mickey’s greatest trait that people didn’t get to see: She was just very quiet but very charming individual. A good sense of humor. Her career was just a different thing. It was just a different part of her body. I just know that she preferred not to be in the limelight. She was proud of what she did—and rightfully so—but she wasn’t going to take advantage of that. That wasn’t what she enjoyed.

V. On golf losing Mickey at an early age: She was our Arnold Palmer, our Jack Nicklaus, our Tiger Woods and our Nancy Lopez. I asked her about it later on and she said that the sponsors were putting so much pressure on her and maybe cancelling a tournament if she didn’t play. So it was such a burden for her. It became not enjoyable. She said I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but it wasn’t any fun anymore. She had a lot of pressure on her and there was nobody there to take that pressure off. It all fell on her and I think it was too much demand on her time.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by The IX Team