Bill Wright, who was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame in 2013 after a career which included being the first Black golfer to win a USGA national championship, passed away on Feb 19. He was 84.
Wright was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and his family moved west when he was 12. He started playing golf at 14, joining the Fir State Golf Club’s junior program at Seattle’s Jefferson Park Golf Course.
Fir State was established in 1947 to combat discriminatory practices and, at the same time, to promote access to golf within the minority community. An important part of the club’s mission was to stimulate interest and participation of young people in the game.
Wright was introduced to the game by his parents, Bob and Madeline, who were early members of Fir State.
Bill was one of the first participants in Fir State’s junior golf program in the 1950s, and within a year after picking up the game he was the city’s Junior champion.
In winning the 1959 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, Wright made history by becoming the first African-American to win a USGA national championship. “My victory in 1959 was the best thing that happened to me, in my life,” Wright would say, many years later.
Wright helped lead Franklin High School to its first state basketball title in 1954, and was named third-team All-State. In 1956, he played on the Westside Ford AAU team with Elgin Baylor, who became one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
Bill earned athletic honors in golf and basketball at Western Washington State College (now University), winning the NAIA collegiate individual golf championship in 1960, and is a member of WWU’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He competed in the 1959 U.S. Amateur and was a member of the 1959 Hudson Cup team. He briefly ventured onto the professional tour, and played in the 1966 U.S. Open. He has qualified for five U.S. Senior Opens, and has been enshrined in the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.
The USGA, WA Golf, First Tee of Greater Seattle and Jefferson Park GC declared October 10, 2009 as “Bill Wright Day” to honor the 50th anniversary of Bill’s historic victory in the U.S. Amateur Public Links, with a celebration held at Jefferson Park.
For more than 25 years, Wright was a golf teacher at the Lakes at El Segundo near Los Angeles. Ever the athlete, Bill played basketball well into his 50s, and once played on a team that included actor Greg Morris and legendary pitcher Sandy Koufax.
In January 2017, Wright had a stroke. It took away his ability to speak, and he was bedridden the rest of his life, while also suffering from Alzheimer’s.
A champion. A mentor. A friend.