Legendary San Diego golfer Mickey Wright dies at 85
Wright, who was born in San Diego and graduated from Hoover High in 1952, won 82 LPGA tournaments, including 13 majors, in her Hall of Fame career and was regarded as the greatest women’s golfer in history
You never know when or where inspiration will grow into greatness. For Mary Kathryn Wright, it came on a golf course in Chula Vista. The year was 1946 and the place was San Diego Country Club, where Wright witnessed an exhibition between Byron Nelson and Leo Diegel. Then 11 years old, Wright became consumed with the sport and would become one of its all-time champions.
“When I play my best golf,” Wright once said, “I feel as if I’m in a fog, standing back watching the earth orbit with a golf club in my hands.”
Wright had an otherworldly talent with a golf club in her hands. Fans would come to know her as Mickey Wright, a San Diego native regarded by many as the greatest women’s golfer in history.
Wright, who turned 85 on Friday, died Monday of a heart attack. She was hospitalized near her Florida home in recent weeks following a fall, her lawyer, Sonia Pawluc, told The Associated Press.
“We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Mickey Wright,” LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said. “We lost a legend, but we may also have lost the best swing in golf history today. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”
Wright won 82 tournaments on the LPGA Tour in a show of dominance on the women’s side that was comparable to what Tiger Woods has done on the men’s tour.
Wright’s career victories are second only to Kathy Whitworth’s total of 88. Her career included a dominating stretch from 1961 to 1964 in which Wright captured 44 titles, at least 10 each year. Wright’s 13 wins during the 1963 season is still the tour record. She was named the Woman Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press in 1963 and 1964.
Wright won 13 major championships, though she played full-time on the tour for only 14 years. Only Patty Berg, with 15, won more majors. Wright is the only women’s golfer to hold the four major championships at one time, accomplishing the feat in 1961 and 1962.
“Today the golf world lost one of its greatest champions,” Whitworth told LPGA.com. “And today, I lost a very dear friend. I owe a great deal to Mickey Wright. She contributed so much to my career success and to my life as well. What a blessing to play alongside Mickey. It was impossible to be around her without knowing she was someone very special.”
Wright was a Hoover High School graduate, meaning that, along with Ted Williams, the school can claim two of the prettiest swings in sports history.
Golf legends Ben Hogan and Nelson judged Wright’s swing the best they’d ever seen — man or woman.
Wright learned it from La Jolla Country Club head pro Johnny Bellante, who, in an effort to teach her timing, borrowed a switch from a eucalyptus tree located adjacent to the practice range
“(He) handed it to me and said, ‘Swing this and make it sing,’ ” Wright said in a 2011 U.S. Golf Association story. “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 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.”
Wright had the good fortune to learn from watching two other local golf greats — Gene Littler at La Jolla Country Club and Billy Casper at San Diego Country Club.
“All of that exposure was a wondrous influence,” Wright told The (San Diego) Tribune in a 1988 interview. “It gave me marvelous standards.”
Wright was born in San Diego on Feb. 14, 1935, and knew before she was a teenager that she wanted a career in the sport when she began hitting high, beautiful drives that others could only dream of duplicating.
At 12, Wright’s father took her to Stardust Country Club (now Riverwalk Golf Club) in Mission Valley for lessons at the driving range.
“When she was hitting the driver people would come up behind her and start to applaud,” said Julie Goldberg, a San Diego Country Club member and former chairman of the Women’s Golf Association who developed a friendship with Wright over the past decade. “She said that’s when she knew she wanted to be a professional golfer and work the crowd.”
At 17, Wright won the 1952 USGA Girls’ Junior Championship. Two years later, she was runner-up at the World Amateur.
Wright attended Stanford for a year, studying psychology, before dropping out in 1955 to start her professional golf career.
“I’ve earned my own version of a master’s degree in psychology in study and experience, trial and error, on golf courses throughout the United States. For psychology is as integral a part of good golf as an efficient swing,” she said, according to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Fortune did not accompany the fame in the fledgling tour’s early days — tournament winners typically cashed a check of no more than a couple thousand dollars — but it didn’t diminish the experience.
“Mickey said one of the best memories she had is winning a Cadillac at one tournament,” Goldberg said. “So four or five girls would all hop in the Cadillac, who were going to play in the next tournament, and they would all go together.
“She said after that, she always bought a Cadillac.”
Wright was the tour’s driving force in more ways than one.
In fact, she was the main draw to such an extent that some tour backers threatened to pull their sponsorship if she was not in the tournament.
“It was a lot of pressure to be in contention week after week for five or six years,” Wright told Golf World in 2000. “I guess they call it burnout now, but it wore me out.
“Unless you’re a golfer, you can’t understand the tension and pressure of tournament play. And it was the expectations: It was always, ‘What’s wrong with your game? Are you coming apart?’ Second or third isn’t bad, but it feels bad when you’ve won 44 tournaments in four years.”
Wright retired from the tour in 1969, although she continued to play over the next decade. She was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976.
Wright told the Union-Tribune in 2015 that of all her victories, the 1964 U.S. Women’s Open at San Diego Country Club was the one she believed to be her greatest.
“Just you mentioning it gives me goosebumps,” Wright said.
Wright, who defeated Ruth Jessen in a playoff, had to par the 72nd hole to extend the tournament.
She had blasted out of a greenside bunker to six feet from the cup, but was unnerved walking up to the green when she spotted her parents standing next to each other.
“My mother and father were divorced and they had never watched me play golf at the same time,” Wright told The New York Times. “It almost cracked me up.”
She steadied herself for the par putt and the following day recorded a two-stroke victory in the 18-hole playoff.
The 50th anniversary of the feat coincided with a girls golf tournament being organized at San Diego Country Club. It was named in her honor. The fifth Mickey Wright Invitational is scheduled for Aug. 6.
Each year, Wright would pen a personal letter to the players and approve a special gift just for the 24 players in the tournament field. A guest speaker would talk about the golfer’s lasting legacy.
“That’s one thing we do,” Goldberg said. “We talk about how she and other women who started the LPGA were real trailblazers.”
Wright never set out to be a trailblazer. It just worked out that way.
As she told Sports Illustrated in 2012, playing golf was more than a sport in her mind.
“I treated hitting a golf ball as an art form,” she said.
Cardinal Catcher Earns Major League Scouting Accolades
By Glynnis Jones Aguirre
Hoover alum, Damon Oppenheimer ’81 (on right), was honored as the West Coast Scout of the Year at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings on December 11, 2018, in Las Vegas. Then just one month later, he was honored again by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation at the 16th Annual “In the Spirit of the Game” Awards Dinner in Beverly Hills, where he received the 2019 George Genovese Lifetime Achievement in Scouting Award, presented by Yankees GM Brian Cashman. Damon is currently Vice President of Domestic Amateur Scouting for the New York Yankees, where he has been a permanent fixture in the scouting department in some capacity since 1996.
In his Hoover days, Damon played one year of JV and two years Varsity baseball, under Coaches Hal Mitrovich and Bob Warner, respectively. As a senior, he was one of a trio of captains on a very competitive 1981 roster, where he was the starting catcher. Damon played college ball for the USC Trojans and was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 18th round of the 1985 Major League Baseball Draft. He played one season for the Class-A Beloit Brewers until his career was cut short by injury. That setback was just a setup for the career he was meant to have – that of a major league scout.
Damon’s scouting career began right here at home with the San Diego Padres, the team his mom worked for and where he sold concessions as a teenager. From there he went to the Yankees, then the Rangers, and back to the Yankees where he has served in various positions since 1996, including overseeing the Yankees’ drafts in numerous vice president titles since 2004. It has been reported he is considered a likely future GM.
Damon’s success comes as no surprise to those of us who knew him in high school. Not only was he a talented athlete, but he was intelligent both on and off the field – a true student of the game. His love for the game of baseball was always front and center, but he was also an involved and engaged student and a great friend. If you ask any of our classmates to describe Damon, I’m sure they would tell you that he was one of the kindest and most thoughtful of all of us. I know Damon’s good fortunes have come from hard work and perseverance; but I also know that good things come to good people…which is why I am absolutely sure there are more great things for him on the horizon, and the Class of ’81 couldn’t be prouder. Congrats, OP!
To read more on Damon’s awards, go to:
Hoover Students Give Car to Food Worker.
This inspiring story was on the CBS news. See link for full video. Click Here
TED WILLIAMS IN THE NEWS
1. The California Museum will be doing an exhibit of famous California baseball players. Ted Williams being the best player of all. We (Hoover Alumni Org.) have contributed 5 pictures and his class annual to be included in the exhibit. It will be from July 1 thru Dec. 31, 2018
2. Dick Enberg’s new book titled “Being Ted Williams” is now available in bookstores and online. We (Hoover Alumni Org.) contributed a couple of pictures used in the book. See article below.
Hoover Alum, Olympic Hurdler James King to Coach Track Team
Hoover alum and past Olympic hurdler James King is coming back to Hoover to help coach track and field. In 1975 he won the Pan American Games in the 400 Hurdles. He was a top level performer for many years also competing in the United States Olympic Trials in 1972, 1976, 1980, and 1984.
King was ranked in the Top 10 United States 400 meter hurdlers for ten consecutive years most of it during the Edwin Moses and Andre Phillips era. He held the official World Masters Athletics World Record in the 400 hurdles for Men 40+ for over 20 years, until it was surpassed in 2012 by Danny McFarlane. He also held the World Record for the M35 and M40 400 metres (without hurdles) for almost 15 years each.
King competed collegiately for San Diego State University and has remained in the area, coaching at San Diego Mesa College, San Diego City College, Grossmont College and Cuyamaca College. Before accepting the position at Hoover, King was an assistant coach at Mesa College.
King was ranked in the Top 10
United States 400 meter hurdlers
for ten consecutive years.
Hoover Grad Ted Giannoulas, aka the San Diego Chicken, Celebrated with 3 Pages Of Photos in U-T San Diego
One of Hoover High School’s most famous graduates is a man whose face is rarely recognized. Because he’s Ted Giannoulas, Class of 1972 (pictured right), the man inside the well-known San Diego Chicken costume. Over his 41-year career as an entertainer at sporting events, rock concerts and parades we’ve seen him as the KGB Chicken, San Diego Chicken, Famous Chicken, or even the Famous San Diego Chicken. Chris Jenkins’ keepsake article in the June 25, 2015 edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune features 14 photos and spans three pages of Sports, a pretty remarkable feat for a fellow who wears big floppy feet and a feathered suit topped by a sleepy-eyed outsize head. At age 61 is Giannulous slowing down? Jenkins asks. Hardly. “Inside that suit,” says Giannoulas, “I still feel like I’m in my 20s, like I could live forever.”
Hoover Cardinal Lineman Dick Chase, Class of ’43, Finally Receives Bronze Star
Service in Germany and Japan Earned Private Chase the Award, But the Medal Presentation Was 70 Years in Coming By John Adkins ‘72 Dick Chase still throws a large shadow at age 90. His hands are still strong enough to crush most others. You’ll see a wry smile as he watches you realize this. Milking cows at a diary farm in Mission Valley each day before school no doubt contributed to both his strength and his sense of humor. Dick was a lineman for the Hoover Cardinals in the fall of 1943. “I really enjoyed football,” he says, “and would have liked to play just a few more months before graduating.” But that was not to be. While others we being fitted for Cap and Gowns, Dick was now fitted for green fatigues and a heavy helmet. Instead of Senior Prom he was being taught the proper care and feeding of a trailer-mounted cannon. “I think the Electric Shop teacher ‘ratted-me-out,” Dick remarks, quietly sending word to the Draft Board that a very healthy Hoover High School Senior had enough credits to graduate early. Then, there’s that wry smile again. Dick arrived in Europe for the last two weeks at the infamous Battle of the Bulge. His group continued on through Belgium, Holland, and Germany, finally helping to secure and assist prisoners in a Czechoslovakia camp. It was there (he realized later) that his group qualified for the Bronze Star Award of Merit. However, no surprise, the award never came. After completing their assignment in Europe, Dick’s group was then sent to Japan to secure an Army base on the mainland. As there was less threat for combat there, Dick was volunteered to operate a bulldozer for the daily needs of the base. “Nobody else wanted anything to do with the dozer,” he recalls. “It was bigger than anything we had on the farm. But I did OK with it.” His new assignment paid off in civilian life. Knowing how to operate heavy earth-moving equipment gave him a new skill to take home after the war. Dick operated excavation rigs all over (now bustling) San Diego County. Subsequently, getting married and starting a family, he kind of forgot about that Bronze Star for a while. For almost 70 years. Reading in the newspaper of a soldier receiving a belated award for a similar stint of service, Dick started calling friends, family and government offices to clarify his status and qualifications. “It was impressive to watch him work so hard, he did it all himself,” says his wife Marie (Hoover ’48). Dick made his case. U.S. Representative Susan Davis then took up the cause and “got the ball rolling.” Responding to Dick’s appeal, Davis commented that it was “not a job duty but rather an honor” to see that veterans are properly awarded. Recalling how her father served in Europe at the same time as Dick Chase, she said she was thankful for the effort of all soldiers that allowed her father to come home safely. So, one day after Veterans Day, Nov. 12, 2016, PFC Richard Chase received his Bronze Star for Meritorious Service in front of four generations (of five) of his own family. Many friends (including some fellow Hoover classmates) also attended. On display were many personal pictures of his time in service, a uniform jacket and a pair of dog tags. The ceremony was brought to order by his great granddaughter; leading the audience in The Pledge of Allegiance. A four-member Color Guard from March Air Force Base provided flag bearers. General Suzan Henderson provided the award and read aloud a proclamation. Congresswoman Davis attached the medal to his chest. Dick Chase stood quietly, looking down slightly, no sign of that “wry smile.” After many congratulations, family and friends sat down to a Bar-B-Q picnic in a (very) sunny park in San Diego’s Allied Gardens, not so far from the site of the old Mission Valley dairy farm of his youth.