Frank Hannigan titled his article in the August 1961 issue of the USGA Journal “Mickey Wright Has a Day to Remember at Baltusrol.” Early in the piece he wrote, “The talent of Mickey Wright was never more in evidence than on the final day of the 1961 Open. Her scores were 69 and 72 over one of the great golf courses. She quickly certified this victory as the most satisfying of her career because it transpired on such a marvelous test of the game.”
The statistic that jumps out from the four round summaries is Wright’s play of the par-5 holes, on which she scored seven under par. The writers tell us that she was hitting 2 and 3 irons into the first and seventh greens. She obviously was swinging those difficult clubs superbly, as she had five birdies on those two holes.
Wright’s win at Baltusrol catapulted her into comparisons with some of the greatest players of all time. Herbert Warren Wind, one of most eloquent writers of that (or any) generation, wrote in 1975 that ”One could make a good case for ranking Mickey Wright as one of the finest woman golfers of all time, but since there is no fair way to compare the stars of different eras, it is probably more judicious to say that she stands as one of the three greatest along with Babe Zaharias and Joyce Wethered, the tall, slim, English stylist of the 1920s who won nine of the twelve championships she entered in an abbreviated career.”
Further in the same piece, Wind wrote, “To get back to the performance at Baltusrol in the 1961 Women’s Open: At the halfway mark, because of her second round 80, on which she had putted very poorly, Mickey was four strokes behind the leaders. On the third day, when the last thirty six holes were played, she moved out in front with a coruscating 69 in the morning and then added a par 72 in the afternoon to finish six strokes in front. En route to her 69, she had no fewer than six birdies, but in a way, her closing 72 was every bit as brilliant, for she was on all the greens except two in the regulation stroke. The difference was that she needed only twenty-eight putts in the morning but in the afternoon took two on every green. Eloquent as they are, these figures do not begin to suggest the near perfection of Mickey Wright’s play on that double round. Throughout the long day of pressure, she laced one long drive after another down the middle of the narrow fairways. For all her length, she had to use a lot of club to get home on her approaches—3-irons, 4-irons, 5-irons, and 6-irons for the most part—but on hole after hole, hitting very pure shots, she put the ball within twenty feet of the pin. Had she been sinking putts in the afternoon, she could have been around 66, easily. It is hard to think of a comparable exhibition of beautifully sustained golf over thirty-six holes in a national championship, unless it be Ben Hogan’s last two rounds at Oakland Hills in the 1951 Open.”
Al Laney, who covered sports for the New York Herald Tribune for fifty years, was convinced that the best women’s golf he saw played was by Joyce Wethered and Glenna Collett at the 36-hole final match of the Women’s Championship at St Andrews in 1929. Years later, still convinced as to the stature of that match and its place in golf’s history, Laney nevertheless wrote, “I suspect that Miss Wright’s third and fourth rounds on the final day, 69-72, were, in fact, the most dynamic golf played by a woman in my time in a championship event over such a long and difficult course.”
Mickey Wright went on from Baltusrol to win another 59 titles, notching 82 LPGA Tour victories in her career. She would win another U.S. Open three years later, making four in total, and altogether won 13 LPGA majors. She set many records, most of which have been broken in the years since she played. In 1964, she shot a 30 on the front nine of a round in Midland, Texas on her way to a 62; this score stood for over 30 years as the single round scoring record on the LPGA Tour. She was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1964. In another lasting tribute, the major golf magazines have ranked her in the top ten best players of all time—men and women.
Note: Some of the material quoted herein came from the library at the USGA’s Golf House and was located there by Nancy Stulack, Librarian. The quotations from Herbert Warren Wind were originally published in a New Yorker magazine article that was reprinted in a 1975 book called “The Story of American Golf,” published by The Classics of Golf. The Laney quotation came from a book titled “Following the Leaders,” also published by The Classics of Golf. All of the books in The Classics of Golf collection are shelved in the Eldridge Room and are available to members.