Winning the public links title earned Wright an exemption to play in the U.S. Amateur Championship later that year at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. When the white golfers who were to join him for a practice round refused to play with him, Chick Evans, who had won the Open in 1920, invited him to join his group. That group included Jack Nicklaus, then 19 years old, who would win the event.
“I have never forgotten it,” Wright once said of Evans’s gesture in an interview for usga.com. “He came over and made it so I could enjoy the most aristocratic hotel. It was just amazing.”
William Alfred Wright was born on April 4, 1936, in Kansas City, Mo., and later moved with his family to Portland, Ore., and Seattle. His father, Bob, was a mail carrier and a skilled golfer. His mother, Madeline (Shipman) Wright, was a social worker who also golfed.
Wright began playing golf at 14; a year later, he was Seattle’s junior champion. He excelled in basketball and helped his high school team win a state title in 1954.
He graduated from Western Washington in 1960 and that year won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ individual golf championship. He also played in his first PGA Tour event in 1960, but learned how difficult it was to play a regular schedule without sponsors.
“There was really no visible hope for people of color to play professionally,” Wendell Haskins, a former director of diversity for the P.G.A. of America, said in a phone interview. “He showed all kinds of promise, but the opportunities for him were limited.”
Because he could not afford to play golf professionally full time, Wright taught sixth grade in Los Angeles for nine years, then owned a car dealership in Pasadena and was the teaching pro at the Lakes at El Segundo, a nine-hole municipal golf course, from 1995 to 2017.