Bill Wright of Los Angeles, the first African-American to win a USGA championship, was one of the speakers at the African-American Golf History Symposium, held recently at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.
The event coincided with the opening of an exhibit at the museum, “American Champions and Barrier Breakers.”
A PGA Professional at The Lakes at El Segundo, Wright, 75, talked about his childhood in Seattle, where he played basketball with future Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor and hopped fences to hit golf balls at Jefferson Park GC – the same course on which Fred Couples would one day learn the game.
Wright told the assembled guests that he learned golf by serving as a caddie for his father, and honed his putting skills on the kitchen floor, where he competed against other members of his family. “My mother would cook dinner,” he said, “and we would all putt to see who would have to do dishes. I was regarded as a pretty good putter at the time, but man, there was a lot of pressure over those six-footers.”
He obviously learned how to handle pressure well. In 1959, at age 23, Wright won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Wellshire GC in Denver. Wielding his Spalding Autograph putter – a club now on display in The Comeback Age gallery at the USGA Museum – Wright produced an astonishing array of birdies. In each of six rounds in the competition, he birdied holes 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
“I had runs before,” he said, “but not like that.”
“American Champions and Barrier Breakers” will run through the end of July at the USGA Museum, which is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpted from a report by Michael Trostel, curator and historian for the USGA Museum.