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Bill Wright (1936–2021), first Black golfer to win a USGA title

by Linnea Crowther

Bill Wright was the first Black golfer to win a United States Golf Association (USGA) event, 1959’s Amateur Public Links Championship in Denver.

Pro golf was still segregated when he won

Wright was a standout golfer and basketball player when he attended high school in Seattle, as well as at Western Washington University. He was in his senior year of college when he entered the USGA Amateur Public Links Championship. After his groundbreaking victory there, Wright had a dream of playing golf professionally, but it wasn’t an easy road for a Black man at a time when the PGA’s bylaw still included a “Caucasians only” clause. He played in PGA Tour events beginning in 1960, but he was unable to gain any sponsors, and full-time professional play was an unsustainable path in this segregated era. Wright played in a handful of other PGA Tour events over the years while working as a teacher and a car salesman, and he later became a teaching pro at the California golf course the Lakes at El Segundo.

Notable quote

“You have to understand, we could not play in city tournaments, state tournaments or national tournaments because we couldn’t join a club. There were only three [public] golf courses in Seattle: West Seattle, Jackson Park and Jefferson Park.” —from a 2012 interview for USGA

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Tributes to Bill Wright

Full obituary: The New York Times

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