Pat Bradley is the best-kept secret on the women's pro golf tour. Nancy Lopez has the smile, Jan Stephenson the negligee, JoAnne Carner the nickname—Big Momma. All Bradley does is drive it down the middle, knock it on the green, hole the putt and go on to the next tee. She often finishes in the Top 5, has a string of seconds from here to the next fairway, and in 11 years on the tour she's won 13 times. But not last year—not once. She was runner-up five times, which may be one reason for her comparative anonymity. Winners make headlines. Runners-up just collect checks.
Bradley, 33, has done a lot of that. Carner and Kathy Whitworth, both of whom have been on the tour much longer than she, are first and second in lifetime earnings, with $1.8 million and $1.5 million, respectively. Bradley is third, with $1.4 million. She has the longest current streak for making tournament cuts—121, dating back to November 1980. She holds five U.S. Open records, including lowest 72-hole total (279), and in 1984 she set the mark for the lowest 9-hole score ever on the LPGA Tour—28. Among her 13 victories are two majors: the 1980 Peter Jackson Classic (now the du Maurier Classic) in Canada and the 1981 U.S. Open. In spite of all this, she can walk down almost any street without being recognized and turn on her television set without seeing herself selling shampoo, toothpaste or even golf clubs.
"Hers is a very strange case," says Carner. "A lot of things have covered up Pat Bradley's success. Lopez came on the scene, Stephenson turned into our own little soap opera, and now younger players like [Juli] Inkster and [Patty] Sheehan are getting in on the action. But to win so much money and not be well known, it's tough to tolerate."
Bradley was so worn down at the end of the '84 season that after her last tournament, the J.C. Penney Mixed Team Classic in December, she jumped into a rental car and drove two hours in the wrong direction. "I'll definitely be happy to toast this year goodby," said Bradley the next day while driving at 85 mph down Florida's I-75—this time in the right direction. She was heading home for the first time in six months.
February 25, 1985
It's a December ritual for Bradley to retreat to her Marco Island condo for a few days of reflection, to wrap up one year so that she can concentrate on the next. This time the process was painful, for while '84 had been rewarding financially, artistically it had been frustrating. "When you're in the hunt in 19 out of 28 tournaments, it takes it out of you," she said. Especially when you end up winless. "It's depressing, but who wants to listen to my bellyaching when I make $220,000 in a year without a win?"
She'd put the disappointment well behind her by the time she pulled into the spot marked RESERVED FOR PAT BRADLEY at the Marco Island Country Club. Mike Mollis, a club vice-president and her closest friend there, greets her with a hug and a few encouraging words. "Hey, look, so you win five next year," he says as Bradley belts down the first of two Diet Cokes—she weighs 35 pounds less than she did as a rookie. "I'll tell you one thing," Mollis continues, "you were mistreated at the Dinah Shore."
Bradley shudders. "Oh, god, not that again," she says.
It went like this: With four holes left, Bradley was leading the tournament by two strokes over Inkster. An LPGA official met Bradley and her playing partners at the 15th tee and told them to stop because they were playing too fast for the scheduled TV coverage. Bradley had honors and momentum, but she complied, pacing the tee for six minutes. Her caddie, Jerry Woodard, was going nuts. "I was trying to talk to her, to keep her mind off it," he says. "They should've told us to slow down at the turn, but never to stop altogether." Carner, playing in the same threesome, told Bradley she should continue. But Bradley waited.
By the time the golf official gave them the go-ahead, Bradley's concentration was shot. She stumbled home over the last four holes in one over par and then lost in a playoff to Inkster.
Tournament officials were embarrassed. It is not a subject that LPGA commissioner John Laupheimer likes to discuss: "She was very, very good about it. And that's all I have to say."
But if this upset Bradley, she didn't let it show. "Dinah Shore and NBC have done too much to help women's golf for me to have criticized them," she says. Newspaper stories about the tournament glossed over the incident.
Including the Dinah Shore, Bradley has finished second 32 times in her career. It gnaws at her. She knows it takes 30 career wins, including two different majors, to get into the Hall of Fame. She knows only 10 women have made it, and she knows if she'd been able to convert about half of those seconds to firsts, she'd be in the Hall right now.
She knows her reputation, and she's grown tired of the labels that always seem to follow her name—"silent star," "perennial runner-up." Even friends, trying to be kind, remind her of her "rich loser" status.
"Hey, Coach, I loved ya in that BC-Miami game," says Bradley, greeting another Marco winter resident, former Notre Dame coach-turned-announcer Ara Parseghian, in the country club lounge.
"Hello, Patricia," says Parseghian. "You know you're that far away [he holds his index finger to his thumb] from winning 10 to 15 tournaments a year."
"I know, Coach," she says. "I always hate to take a week off because I think it might be my week."
Dick Bradley wanted his six children to learn golf because he viewed it as a game that teaches etiquette and honesty. As a boy, his family couldn't afford to join a golf club, but he caddied, and what he saw made an impression. When his sporting-goods store in Westford, Mass. began thriving, he joined the nearby Nashua Country Club in Nashua, N.H. and introduced his children to the game. When his third child, and only daughter, turned 11, he signed her up for group lessons. She responded with enthusiasm.
"Even then, the ability was there," says John Wirbal, the head pro at Nashua. "She was so strong, but what impressed me the most was the way she took divots. Pat was never afraid to bang the club with a descending blow." She loved to hit golf balls. On the hottest day of August, while other kids were at the pool, you could find her off in a sand trap practicing.
The Bradley kids had no excuse to be idle. Thanks to R.J. Bradley's Ski and Tennis Shop, Pat was into all sports and well equipped for them. She started skiing at age six and was racing at 10. She played on the area's Junior Wightman Cup tennis team, and the summer after she turned 13, she was home run "king" of the neighborhood, with 78. On rainy days, when things got slow, she banged away on a set of drums in the attic.
At Westford Academy she was captain and MVP in three sports. In field hockey she once ran into the opposing goalie so hard that she broke one of the girl's arms. In basketball she was a gunner, once hitting 39 points in a game, and in softball she was a power-hitting shortstop who batted well over .700. Amid this frenzy of activity, she was chosen queen of her senior prom.
As she got older, Pat's priorities narrowed to golf and skiing. In 1967, at 16, she became the youngest player ever to win the New Hampshire Women's Amateur golf title. Her father didn't want to make her nervous at the tournament, so he watched while hiding in the woods. It worked; she broke 80 for the first time. The following June she flew to Montana to train with three professional skiers from Austria. She learned how to ski better and faster, and it made a difference. When she returned, she won slalom and giant slalom events throughout New England while competing for a tri-state team representing Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
In 1968 Dick Bradley and his daughter sat down at the kitchen table to make an important decision: Which sport should she pursue? They talked and they argued, and finally golf, Dick Bradley's sport of etiquette and honesty, won out.
Bradley went off to Miami Dade Junior College for two years, then entered Arizona State, where Carner had gone. She hated it and dropped out in January 1972. A year later Bradley enrolled at Florida International University, a new school in Miami, where she was the only woman golfer. She was fifth in the AIAW tournament, and was named an All-America.
It was during that time that Len Sweeney, a friend of the family's from the Nashua Country Club, invited her to his home on Marco Island. He wanted her to meet Gene Sarazen, and he wanted Sarazen to watch her play. After 18 holes, Sarazen went over Bradley's game like an accountant doing an audit of a new business. He told her she had a lot of work to do. Later, Sweeney pulled Sarazen aside and asked whether Dick Bradley's daughter could make it.
"Are her parents wealthy?" asked Sarazen.
"Well, no, not really," said Sweeney.
"Then she'll make it," he said.
Bradley slowly bloomed. Nancy Lopez, a whiz kid, won national amateur tournaments when she was 15. Bradley barely qualified for national amateur events. She learned to compete under pressure by playing pickup golf at Nashua for $10 a round. The guys called the afternoon stakes match the Hatreds because the games could get pretty hateful. "There was a lot of swearing and what we call 'color' out there," says Bradley.
She was the only woman allowed to play. "John Wirbal made us do it," says Hatred alum Mike Lupica, now a sports columnist with New York's Daily News. "She was always practicing, a foreign concept to us. I'm sure she's still walking around with my allowance."
In January 1974, Bradley entered the LPGA Tour School. At the time, the top 10 (and ties) qualified, and she would have settled for 10th place. But she wound up No. I, winning the decisive 54-hole tournament by four strokes over a woman named Stephenson.
On and off the course Bradley walks fast, talks fast, thinks fast. One day in Bangkok, between tournaments, she was riding with Lopez and Jo Ann Washam when they spotted a young mother, covered with dirt, nursing her baby on the side of the street. Bradley told the cabby to stop. He refused. She gathered up all the money her friends had, waited for the cab to slow down in traffic, jumped out, raced over to the mother and laid the money in her lap. "Then she ran and chased after the cab," says Lopez.
Bradley is amazed at the world that golf has opened up to her. She has played with a sultan in Bangkok and with Joe DiMaggio in the U.S. She has skied with Gerald Ford and once gave Clint Eastwood a three-second head start down a mountain and beat him.
She should be a celebrity in her own right, but she doesn't think that way. She thinks this way: "I mean, here I am from a little town called Westford. It's all fabulous." The people in Westford think so, too. A street in a development will be named for her this year: Bradley Lane.
Walking the fairways on the LPGA Tour, Bradley is all business. Carner says Pat leaves her personality at home. "She doesn't talk to her playing partners—let alone the crowd," says Big Momma. Bradley walks straight up the fairway with her head down. It's amazing she doesn't bump into people. "I'm not a Carner or a Trevino," she says. "I've tried to be lighthearted with the gallery, but it's just not my style."
It's as if it takes every ounce of energy she has just to play the tour. During the season she rooms alone, eats at places like Denny's and never travels first-class. She owns two pairs of jeans and keeps anything important in an overstuffed briefcase that she refers to as "my life." Unlike most top golfers, she has no agent. To get in touch with her, she suggests you leave a message at her parents' store.
These days, even people who once knew Bradley well might have a hard time recognizing her. Her hair is turning gray, and she has slimmed down from 177 pounds as a rookie to 133 at the end of last season, though she's 145 now. "I haven't weighed this little since I was five," said the 5'6" Bradley in December.
That's not to say she watches what she eats. In fact, if you watch what she eats, it seems pretty odd. In a day she'll drink a six-pack of Diet Coke and eat a package of animal crackers—the kind with the little rope handles.
She keeps a distance from most of her competitors. "I don't like cliques on the tour, so I spread myself around," she says. "I have a hard enough time trying to take care of myself without having to worry about my friends' problems."
As a result, Bradley has developed few friendships, but her golf game has matured. She used to be known only for the length of her drives, but in '84 her peers voted her the best short-iron player—a sign of growth and hard work. Her putting is always solid, whether she uses the Aoki style (with only the heel of the putter down) that helped her win the '81 Open or the conventional style she recently returned to.
On weekend afternoons during the season, the sports department of either The Boston Globe or The Boston Herald receives a call. "How'd Pat Bradley do today," the voice on the phone always asks.
"Hold on a minute, Mrs. Bradley. It's coming over the wire now," says the guy at the desk.
Even if Bradley is five or six strokes back going into Sunday's round, the folks at home know she might pull it off. She led from start to finish in only three of her tour victories.
"Mostly I'm a come-from-behinder, sneaking in," says Bradley. At the 1983 Chrysler-Plymouth Charity Classic in New Jersey she was five shots off the pace and won by one with a 66. Indeed, in each of her four tournament victories in '83, her final round was in the 60s.
But Bradley rarely gets the publicity one might expect for so splendid a golfer. She is never shown in LPGA promos and she rarely gets feature treatment in the media. Bradley says it doesn't bother her. "Someone like Jan sells, and that, indirectly, helps me," Bradley says. "She brings people to golf tournaments, and maybe, once they're there, they'll get to know who Pat Bradley is."
But those who know know that Bradley and Stephenson have never gotten along, not since their first meeting as rookies at Tour School. It probably didn't help that Stephenson defeated Bradley for Rookie of the Year honors. "I've never heard them say more than a quick 'Hi' to each other," says Woodard, Bradley's caddie. "Them two don't get along. It's like the Celtics playing the Lakers. Whenever they're matched, they both shoot well because they hate each other."
If pressed, Bradley says, "It's just a personality conflict." But Bradley's younger brother, Chris, asks, "Did you hear what [Stephenson] said about Pat last summer? She's such a loudmouth, getting all of the publicity."
This is what Jan Stephenson told a newspaper reporter during the United Virginia Bank Classic in May: "It seems like everyone is pulling at me from all sides. I do all the endorsements because I'm the one they want. Pat Bradley is a great player, but what can you say about Pat Bradley but what she shot? All she does is practice and play."
Reminded of this, Bradley said, "You know, maybe that's my problem."