The 'Real' Michael Wright
BY Wally Wright | 09 May 2012
My brother, Michael, and I recently attended a friend’s wedding in Sydney, and found ourselves seated at the same table as Christian MacGill (golf pro) from Pymble Golf Club.
As is customary at wedding receptions, the first few minutes were spent locating our table and introducing ourselves to those whom we had not already met.
When Michael and Christian shook hands, Christian said: “When I looked at the seating chart outside, I thought I might have been sitting next to Michael Wright the golfer.”
Funnily enough, this was not the first time that my brother had been confused with the real Michael Wright, the professional golfer. When I was working at Keperra Country Golf Club, my brother, an avid golfer himself, would occasionally join me for a round.
On one such day, I was loitering around the putting green, waiting for Mick to arrive, when a member (who was always looking to tag along) asked: “Hey Wal, are you going for a round this arvo?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “Just waiting for my brother, Michael, to get here.”
“The golfer?” came the eager reply. “No,” I assured him. “Not Michael Wright, the golfer.”
Because I religiously watch Australia’s big three golf tournaments every summer, I have (at least for the last few years) been aware of the fact that there is an Australian golfer named Michael Wright. In much the same way that Sheffield Shield cricketers are ‘invisible’ to your average sports fan until they represent Australia, Australian professional golfers are virtually unknown until they make it onto the PGA Tour.
Before I decided that I wanted to do a story on Michael, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you a thing about him, and I’m a golf enthusiast that’s worked in the golf industry for the last six years.
Intrigued by the prospect of meeting one of Australian golf’s ‘invisible’ men, I set about trying to arrange a time to meet with Michael at Brookwater Golf & Country Club, where he practices under the watchful eye of supercoach Ian Triggs, while also working as one of the club’s Golf Ambassadors.
When I initially contacted Michael via email, he was just about to travel to Thailand for a week to visit his sports psychologist, Daniel Bechu, a Frenchmen who works with several players on the European Tour, including Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts. A few weeks later, when we eventually met up for a chat, my first question was: ‘So tell me about this French psychologist that lives in Thailand?’
‘Wrighty’ as he is referred to by his mates, described the week in Thailand as, ‘the most intense training I’ve ever done as a golfer’. The paradoxical nature of feeling ‘mentally exhausted’ after a week where he was trying to ‘not think’, may raise some eyebrows about Bechu’s training methods, but Michael returned from Thailand armed with three simple cues that will allow him to narrow his focus when the pressure is on, a skill which by his own admission, he must master if he wants to take his game to the next level.
After learning how Michael was introduced to the game, I soon discovered that intense training has been a cornerstone of his entire golfing career. Michael was introduced to golf at the age of of 15 by his father, Gary, a golf pro himself.
Unlike most golfers in their teens, who are just starting out, Michael didn’t set foot on a golf course for six months. Instead, Michael would go down to the local soccer field with his father and hit balls for hours. This initial training was done during the winter months and Michael vividly remembers the pain that came with every jarring mishit or shank.
“I don’t want to slap it. My hands hurt when I slap it,” he said to his father, on one particularly cold afternoon when he was struggling to hit the ball cleanly.
“Well, just hit it out of the middle then,” came the deadpan response from Wright Snr.
Although at the time, he couldn’t understand why his father refused to let him on the golf course for those first six months, he now appreciates that his father knew what he was doing.
The fact that Michael had a technically sound and repeatable swing before he teed it up for his first ever round at Brisbane’s Victoria Park Golf Course, meant that he didn’t have to deal with the frustrating plateaus that are often experienced by beginner golfers who are changing their swing every week. ‘Wrighty’ shot 78 off the stick in his first competition round and by the time he’d finished high school at the age of 17, he was off scratch.
When Michael sat down with his parents, after graduating high school, to discuss what career path he wanted to pursue, there was a mixed response to his decision to go for his PGA Traineeship. Michael’s mother was vehemently opposed to the idea. She wanted him to go to university. Gary was a bit more supportive than his wife, but posed this question to his son: “Do you want to play or do you want to be a club pro like me?”
“I want to play,” said Michael. “Ok, that’s fine. If you want to play, I would strongly advise you not to do your traineeship because it takes up too much time,” said Gary.
Heeding the advice of both parents, Michael enrolled at Griffith University where he studied to become a primary school PE teacher, while honing his golf game at Brisbane Golf Club. After completing his tertiary studies, Michael worked as a teacher three days a week and played golf the other four days. His dominance of Brisbane’s Club Championships during this period was impressive to say the least, winning five and coming runner-up in three.
While many of his peers rushed to gain their Tour card, ‘Wrighty’ listened to the sage advice of his father and played in as many Pro-ams as he could, which allowed him to measure himself against professionals. Michael patiently waited until he was confident in his ability to earn a living playing golf. At 25, he put down the chalk and the whistle, and went to Q-School. He gained his card first time around and began the grind that is professional golf.
Like many Australian golfers, Michael’s career thus far has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. There have been several twists and turns, and ups and downs but ‘Wrighty’ is still aboard the carriage, while many of his peers are now just spectators, wishing they had the same steely determination and desire. When you talk to Michael, you can see just how much he loves the grind of being a professional golfer.
“Sheer determination has got me to where I am,” said Michael, when I asked whether or not he’d ever contemplated retiring from professional golf.
In 2008, with the impending birth of his second son, Michael lost his Asian tour status after a particularly barren season. He was at a crossroads. Instead of giving up on professional golf, Michael changed coaches (Tom Berndt to Ian Triggs), got a strength and conditioning coach and linked up with psychologist Bechu. Since making these wholesale changes, Michael has enjoyed his best three years as a professional golfer.
Now that Bechu is semi-retired and living in Thailand, Michael hopes to put him ‘on the bag’ in some of his OneAsia tournaments, which will give him a constant point of reference.
Despite the fact that he has played in two British Opens (2006 & 2009) and won several events in Australia (2005 NSW Open, 2011 WA PGA) and Asia, Michael still believes he has a long way to go before he can be happy with his career. When questioned about his T8 at the 2006 Australian PGA Championship (his best big-money Australian tournament performance to date), Michael responded: “I feel like I’m underachieving in those events to be honest. I should be putting together performances like that every year. That’s the frustrating thing about golf. It can drive you nuts.”
When Michael isn’t playing or practicing golf, he loves to spend as much time as he can with his wife Joann, a qualified teacher herself, and his two young boys, Noah, 6 and Charlie 4. Having spent his early childhood in Noosa, living just minutes away from the beach, ‘Wrighty’ has always loved the surf.
A more than competent surfer, Michael recently tried his hand at kite-surfing. He took to it with ease, but awoke the next day with incredibly sore shoulders and a stiff back. ‘Wrighty’ decided then and there that he would have to put off his aspirations of becoming a kite-surfer until after his golf career; just another sacrifice that comes with the job.
A few years ago, Michael made a pact with his wife; that he would never be away from home for more than three weeks at a time. Now that his two sons have caught the golfing bug; regularly following him around the golf course, whacking golf balls with their miniature clubs, Michael fears Joann may want to make some changes to the pact in the near future, such is their desire to ‘go to golf’.
At 37 years of age, Michael doesn’t want to put a timeline on his career. His immediate aims include securing his OneAsia tour card, performing well at the U.S. Open qualifying in June, and being in the mix come Sunday at Australia’s big three tournaments (Masters, Australian Open and PGA). Like any golfer worth his salt, ‘Wrighty’ desperately wants to one day make it onto the PGA Tour, and he will take his first steps towards achieving this goal later on this year when he plans on going to US Q-school.In his recently published debut book, Ed Cowan (Australian Test cricketer) writes about dealing with the mixed emotions of being an ‘invisible’ professional athlete. A few good performances and a bit of luck can see you become a household name, on the other hand, a few bad performances and some bad luck can see you spat out the bottom, never to return to the professional ranks again.
Ed Cowan is now a household name and is reaping the rewards for his many years of hard work, which in the most part, went unnoticed. With a bit of luck in 2012, I believe Michael Wright can finally shed his cloak of invisibility and become the world-class golfer that he knows he can be.
When he does, and somebody says to you: ‘Who’s this Michael Wright?’
You can respond: ‘Who Wrighty, he’s been around for years. He trains out at Brookwater and he likes kite-surfing.’
About author Wally Wright:
Wally is a guest writer for iseekgolf.com and also the Author of It’s your Wally Grout – A Grandson’s Tale, Wally is an avid golfer who has worked in the golf industry for the last six years.
Discuss this article in our forums