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'Bill Wright Day' Celebrated in Seattle
Bill Wright at Jefferson Park
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Seattle-native Bill Wright winning the 1959 U.S. Amateur Public Links championship, becoming the first African-American to win a USGA national title, and in celebration of Wright's historic victory and his contributions to the game of golf, the Washington State Golf Association, Fir State Junior Golf Foundation, The First Tee of Greater Seattle, United States Golf Association and Jefferson Park Golf Course commemorated October 10th as "Bill Wright Day."
The ceremony was held at Jefferson Park Golf Course in Seattle and included a presentation, followed by Wright giving a clinic for The First Tee and Fir State kids. The ceremony and clinic were open to the public.
Speakers included Ron Read, the USGA's Director for Western Regional Affairs and long-time starter at the U.S. Open; John Bodenhamer, Executive Director of the Washington State Golf Association; Heidi Wills, Executive Director of The First Tee of Greater Seattle; Samuel Tucker, Executive Director of Fir State Junior Golf Foundation; and Andy Soden, Golf Director for the City of Seattle.
Wright also spoke at the presentation. "It's really unbelievable what's been happening this year (because of the 50th anniversary)," he said. "That was such a long time ago."
He spoke of his roommate during the championship in 1959, 14-year-old Bill Tindall of Seattle, who would later win the U.S. Junior Championship in 1960 and go on to become one the Northwest's finest club pros.
Left to right are Ron Read, USGA Western Director; Samuel Tucker, Executive Director of Fir State Junior Golf Foundation; Bill Wright; Heidi Wills, Executive Director of The First Tee of Greater Seattle; Andy Soden, Golf Director for City of Seattle
Wright also spoke of how a couple years ago Fred Couples came to see him at The Lakes course in El Segundo, Calif. where Wright gives lessons. "I asked Freddy how he ever found me," said Wright. "He said 'I know all about you,' and we both laughed about how Dick Haskell (the former longtime golf director at Jefferson Park) used to chase both of us off the grounds, two decades apart, at Jefferson after we'd sneak on to hit balls. But that's the kind of guy Couples is, to take the time to look me up."
"The game of golf is fortunate to have someone such as Bill Wright," said John Bodenhamer, Executive Director of the Washington State Golf Association. "His integrity is something that is having an impact on the game across the decades."
Wright's ties to golf began at age 14, when his father began taking him to Jefferson Park. Bill's parents, Bob and Madeline Wright, both golfed and belonged to the Fir State Golf Club, which was founded in 1949 to promote access to golf within Seattle's minority community. Bill was one of the first participants in Fir State's junior golf program, which continues today at the municipal facility. Within a year he was the city's junior champion. He earned athletic honors in golf and basketball at Western Washington State College (now University), winning the NAIA individual golf championship in 1960, and is a member of WWU's Athletic Hall of Fame.
He briefly ventured onto the professional tour, and played in the 1966 U.S. Open. He still carries his PGA Tour card in his wallet. Staying in the game, he has qualified for five U.S. Senior Opens, and now, at age 73, teaches golf four to five days a week at The Lakes at El Segundo course in the Los Angeles, Calif. area.
In the summer of 1959, at Wellshire Golf Course in Denver, Wright defeated Frank Campbell of Jacksonville, Florida 3 & 2 in the 36-hole final match of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
Asked what winning that championship has meant to him, Wright says: "It means that I was playing well at the time, but it also meant that someone else could come along and play in the tournament. It didn't make a difference if they were young or old or anything - they could play, and they'd have a chance to win. I am proud now, if you ask me. I have been for many years. I was able to at least give an image to kids like that."