You have to forgive the LPGA for some things. This year it has come up with a clunky new theme song—"We have glitter, we have glamour, we have razzmatazz"—and a marketing strategy that would reach its apogee if, say, Muffin Spencer-Devlin made the cover of Reincarnation Today. And, of course, it still clings to that worn company line about throngs of talented players just hanging on the lip of greatness. Fortunately, the best thing women's golf has to sell in 1987 is battle-tested and industrial strength: Pat Bradley versus Nancy Lopez.
Round 1 was played last week at the Mazda Classic in Boca Raton, Fla., and though Kathy Postlewait beat Betsy King in a playoff, it was Bradley and Lopez who drew the most attention. Bradley almost picked up where she left off in 1986, finishing tied for third, just one stroke shy of the playoff. Lopez, working herself back into shape, opened with a sluggish 77 but steadily improved to finish tied for ninth, seven strokes behind Bradley.
Lopez, 30, and Bradley, 35, have been going head-to-head since 1978, when Lopez burst on the scene with a record five wins in a row and as much charisma as anyone since Babe Didrikson Zaharias. In 1985, Lopez had her best year, winning five tournaments, topping the money list with $416,472 and putting together an LPGA-record scoring average of 70.73. Then last year, Bradley broke a 12-year string of production-line consistency with an even better performance than Lopez's in '85. She won five events, including three of the four LPGA majors (the Dinah Shore, the LPGA Championship and the du Maurier Classic; she finished fifth in the U.S. Women's Open), took home $492,021 and became the first LPGA player to pass $2 million in career earnings.
While Bradley was tearing up the tour, Lopez had her second child, Erinn Shea, in May, and played only four tournaments, all of them late in the year. Now she's back with plans to play 19 tournaments; her sights are set squarely on being No. 1 again. As she did in 1985, Lopez is drawing strength from her life away from competitive golf. "I'm so happy with my life, that now when I play, there is no pressure," Lopez said as she worked out the kinks last week. "It's just all fun, and when it's fun, you perform better."
February 9, 1987
Her husband and biggest supporter, Ray Knight, gave a brasher assessment. Knight may not be a New York Met anymore, but he still talks like one. "Obviously, if Nancy had been out there, Pat wouldn't have had as great a year as she had," Knight said as he followed his wife during all four rounds last week. "I'm sure that some of those tournaments that Pat won, Nancy would have won or been right in there. I think everybody knows that."
Not exactly everyone, Ray. "I don't think I would have been denied," said Bradley. She retained her customary cool even as Lopez's return to the tour got more hoopla than Bradley's prodigious 1986 feats. "It doesn't bother me," she said. "The LPGA always has based a lot of its image with Lopez. Nancy has been marketed very well. Worrying about Lopez is wasted energy."
That's about as close to a war of words as Bradley and Lopez will ever get. They have nothing but respect for each other. That's fine with the LPGA, which would like its tour known for more than just two players. After Patty Sheehan criticized LPGA administrators last year for lacking "pizzazz," they decided they needed to work on getting more of their players recognized. "We want to build the players into the nonsports media," says Pat Norton Burns, LPGA director of communications. "For example, Lauri Peterson does needlepoint, so we'd like to get her on the cover of a needlecraft magazine. It gives us a more solid fan base."
In other words, a more homespun version of the approach that launched Jan Stephenson, whose latest cheesecake calendar probably won't be available at your local 7-Eleven. But does the LPGA really need more characters? Spencer-Devlin, whose season officially began when she was introduced on the 1st tee last week as the winner of the "United Virgin Classic" (she won the United Virginia Bank Classic), is threatening to play in a figure-clinging bodysuit sometime this year. "Think Spandex," she says. And has women's golf ever had a more unabashed, tongue-in-cheek self-promoter than Amy Alcott? After her second round last week, she stopped in the middle of a press conference to ask the media: "You guys are crazy about me, aren't you?" The answer is yes, but the reason is mostly that Alcott is such a good player.
Businesslike golf has paved Bradley's road to respect. "You can hit it in the hole on a fly and Pat won't say 'Good shot,' " says JoAnne Carner. "She's a nice person; it's just that she concentrates harder than anybody." Still, until last year Bradley was better known as a golfer who finished second twice as often as she had finished first. Bradley now admits that she sometimes had problems handling the pressure down the stretch. "I didn't have the gift of mental toughness," she said. "It's the nervous Irish in me."
Before last season she started seeing sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Once he got her to start giving herself credit for being good enough to finish second, she discovered she was freed psychologically to finish first. "Those seconds are as important as wins when you come down to consistency," says Bradley. "Bob has helped me to lighten up on myself, to give Pat Bradley a break. He's helped me to understand that I'm a good guy."
If Bradley needed any further convincing, she received it last week at a players' meeting, during which video highlights of her big year were shown. Afterward, the 140-plus players gave her a standing ovation. "It was wonderful," said Bradley, who admits that her iron exterior was on the verge of cracking from emotion. "They've watched it for 13 years—the close calls and the great years that just weren't good enough. They all knew a year like last year was a dream of mine."
Lopez applauded as loudly as anyone. "Pat really deserved it," she said. "If you've ever lived that kind of year, remembering it can bring tears to your eyes." For Lopez, another such year would include winning her first U.S. Open and another Vare Trophy (for lowest scoring average) and being named Player of the Year for the fourth time. The next tournament she wins will automatically place her in the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Attaining those goals is not going to be easy. Lopez is still about 20 pounds overweight from her pregnancy, although she is on a strict diet and is dropping weight quickly. She also must battle chronic tendinitis in her toes. At the Mazda, Lopez eased the pain by wrapping her feet before play. She is also determined to have Erinn and Ashley, her three-year-old daughter, and a nanny accompany her on the tour.
Even after her disappointing opening round of 77 and some spotty play the rest of the tournament, which left her tired, Lopez was still encouraged. "My game is not that far away," she said. "It's pretty close."
Bradley was almost all the way there. She demonstrated her relentless consistency with rounds of 72-72-72. On Sunday, she challenged the leaders but couldn't get a birdie putt to fall on the back nine and had to settle for 71.
What's in store the rest of the year? Carner, who has been No. 1 three times since she joined the tour in 1970, thinks the Bradley-Lopez rivalry will be good for the tour. "Pat is more aggressive, more confident than she's ever been," said Big Mama, "so you'd have to give her an edge right now. But Nancy is one of those rare ones. This is what she plays for. She loves this stuff. It's gonna be something."