A host of teachers with sparkling credentials can (and, in a minute, will) wax poetic about the quality of the late, great Mickey Wright's swing. For Jim McLean, the fact that the assessment came from even higher authorities was all he needed to hear right from the start.
"Whenever I talked to the great players like Ben Hogan and Jackie Burke about who they thought had the best swing ever, they always said it was Mickey Wright," says McLean, a Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher based at The Biltmore in Coral Gables, Fla. "I'm a 'position' teacher, and hers are still the best. You can teach with what she does just as easily today as you could 60 years ago."
Wright, who passed away Monday at age 85, won her last tournament almost 50 years ago, but her fluid, powerful, athletic swing was more than a prototype. "There were women before her who were powerful players," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Mike Adams. "Babe Zaharias was an athlete who could smash the ball. But she muscled it out there. Mickey Wright's swing was not only powerful, but it was elegant. It was better than Sam Snead's."
McLean intensively researched Wright's swing for a video project decades ago, and was struck by the things Wright did instinctively that turned out to predict tour teaching styles as years progressed. "One thing I remember distinctly was her discussing how she used the last two fingers on her left hand to pull on the club from the transition," says McLean. "That caused a slight bow in her wrist, and put her in a very powerful position. That's something people talk about today as if it was brand new, and she was doing it in 1955 when she joined the LPGA."
Wright had a shorter career than most all-time greats, retiring from a full schedule in 1969 at age 34 because of bad feet and an aversion to the publicity that came with being the face of the tour. But she packed a previously unprecedented amount of winning into her 14 full seasons, winning a then-record 82 tournaments—including 13 majors. '
Nobody on the LPGA had a swing like Wright's, but Claude Harmon III says her action was one that would get even more exposure by a virtual mechanical twin who would join the PGA Tour in 1962, when Wright was already in her prime. "Jack Nicklaus swung it a lot like she did, with the knee action and the high hands," says Harmon, a Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher based at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla. "But the best thing about her swing? Eighty two wins. What more do you need to say?"
Adams says Wright forced people who were dismissive of women's professional golf to acknowledge the power and athleticism in the sport. "She had a great swing—not a great swing for a woman, or any of that stuff you used to read people saying in the 1940s or 1950s," says Adams, who is based at Fiddler's Elbow Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. "She used her size and athleticism to make a very rotary swing without a lot of the slide players tended to use during that time. Ernie Els is a good modern comparison. I wouldn't call her swing 'modern' or 'classic.' I'd call it 'timeless.' She was a great lady, and she had the best swing the game has ever seen."