Try squinting. You can just make out a few skiers on the tree-lined slopes across the highway, toward Boston. It's three days after Christmas, and Westford, Mass., is expecting sunny skies and an afternoon high of 50°. Such forecasts are like receiving a lump of coal from Santa if your fortunes arc tied to the Nashoba Valley Ski Area. But nobody is moping at R.J. Bradley's Ski and Sport Shop. Pat Bradley is home for the holidays.
"Pat and I spent Saturday at Cape Cod," says Bradley's mother, Kathleen, who is happily rearranging a rainbow of sportswear on a nearby circular rack. ""But usually I roust her out of bed in the morning and she helps out here. When we opened, 36 years ago, I had five kids under 10 years old. They all learned to ski really young, and they all helped out at the shop."
Kathleen looks across the sales floor at her prematurely gray daughter, the famous golfer, who is helping a customer decide between two ski jackets—one optic fuchsia, the other neon mauve. "Pat was a terrific skier." says Kathleen. "When she finished high school, she didn't know whether to try out for the U.S. ski team or go south and play golf. So her dad stepped in and said, 'You're going south to play golf.' "
That was in 1969. Since then, Pat has come home for the holidays as regularly as a migratory fowl. Some years she has returned for solace and support. Such was the case during her college days at Florida International in Miami; also during her first 2½ seasons on the LPGA tour, which were winless; and again during her late 30's, when Graves' disease, a thyroid condition, sapped her strength and she plunged from No. 1 on the money list in 1986 to No. 109 two years later. Other years she has brought home triumphs to share: her first LPGA victory (the 1976 Girl Talk Classic), the first of her six major titles (the 1980 Peter Jackson Classic) and her sleighful of goodies in 1986, which included victories in three majors and Player of the Year honors.
February 3, 1992
This time, though, Bradley, the tour's alltime leading money winner, has topped herself. She has descended on Westford with four more LPGA titles, another Player of the Year award, the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, the tour's money-winning title and, finally, the highlight of her career—her impending induction as the 12th member of the LPGA Hall of Fame.
"I knew she'd do well, but never in my wildest dreams did I think she'd be in the Hall of Fame," Kathleen says. She emphasizes the word fame, unwittingly making the point that her daughter was a somewhat gray presence on the tour even before her hair turned. "She doesn't crave the spotlight," says Kathleen, "and she doesn't get it, because she's so low-key."
Low-key? O.K., in the sense that Bradley plays tournament golf briskly, silently and with no discernible joy. "Pat Bradley is a great player," LPGA glamour girl Jan Stephenson once sniped, "but what can you say about Pat Bradley but what she shot? All she does is practice and play."
However, when Bradley is out on the course, her eyes—alert, searching—betray her, as do the muscles below her jaw, which sometimes twitch under pressure. Her favorite word is grind, as in, "I didn't give up; I kept grinding out there."
For Bradley, low-key is a necessary veneer, controlling the competitive fire that rages within. But, hey, dress her in ski clothes and she can sell her weight in mittens. Bradley steers a customer to the register, where her brother Chris takes over.
"Would you like a tour?" she asks another visitor. Her accent is classic Bean-town, pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd. "This is where we lived," she says, weaving through racks of women's sportswear. "If you can picture it, this was the dining room, the living room and two bedrooms."
You can't picture it; it's just one big room now.
"Come on down," she says. "I'll show you the dungeon." She leads the way down narrow steps to a basement workshop, where two young men are servicing skis. Tools and templates hang from hooks on the wall; jars of ski wax line the workbench. "I never had what you'd call a real job here," says Bradley, "but I started when I was little, moving boxes up from the cellar, that sort of thing."
Upstairs again, she shows her visitor the skis and then wanders into the corner of the store that is devoted to golf equipment. "People think it's Pat's golf shop," says Mark DiPietro, who leases the space from the Bradleys. "But I don't mind."
No, it can't hurt DePietro's business to have a Hall of Fame golfer hanging around. Westford folks have come to expect Bradley to be in the store at Christmastime, and they stop by just to exchange small talk and get autographs. In Westford, if nowhere else, she is a big attraction.
Bradley sits down by a display of ski poles and ponders her lackluster image. One has to wonder why a player with her glittering credentials gets so little attention. No other golfer, after all, has ever won all four women's modern majors. No other woman has won three majors in one year. Nobody playing currently, male or female, even approaches her record of consistency—271 Top 10 finishes in 485 tournaments (55.9%) over 18 seasons.
"I was very silent in my moves up the ladder," she says. "My first principal goal was winning Player of the Year, and it took me 13 years to do that. Then I said, 'What else is there?' And that's when the possibility of making the Hall of Fame entered my mind."
The LPGA Hall of Fame is one of sport's most imposing goals, like a 600-yard par-4, uphill and against the wind. There are only three ways a player can get in: win 30 tournaments, including two different majors, win 35 tournaments with one major or win 40 tournaments. Bradley qualified in September by winning her 30th tournament, the MBS LPGA Classic. That put her in the Hall ahead of Amy Alcott, who has been stuck on 29 since March. The clinching victory, in Buena Park, Calif., came only one week after Bradley had notched No. 29 in Seattle, and it gave her back-to-back wins for the first time in her career.
Not surprisingly, Bradley's odometer tripped 30 while the golf world's attention was focused elsewhere—on the U.S. men's stirring Ryder Cup victory in Kiawah, S.C. Worn out from five straight weeks of tournament golf, she had entered the MBS only as a favor to LPGA commissioner Charles Mechem, who wanted to shore up a field that had been weakened by the withdrawal of stars Beth Daniel and Patty Sheehan. Then, after Wednesday's pro-am, Bradley somehow spiked herself in the leg in the locker room—an injury that bled, in her words, "like a gunshot wound." Bandaged up, she shot a two-under-par 72 for the first two rounds and found herself six strokes behind leader Lisa Walters.
Bradley shot a 67 on Saturday to pull within two shots of Walters, who had never won in her eight years on tour. Then, on Sunday, Walters held Bradley off on the front side, but coming from behind has become Bradley's trademark. She birdied 9, 11, 13 and 14, while Walters wilted. When Bradley dropped a 20-foot-er from the fringe for another birdie at 17, the only player within two strokes of her was rookie Michelle Estill, who was already in the clubhouse. Bradley prefers not to look at leader boards, but, she says, "I knew things were happening from the gallery response."
Ignorance may be bliss, but after Bradley drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 18th, she decided to ask her caddie where she stood. Told that she led by two shots, she pitched safely to the fairway and then sealed her victory with a three-foot bogey putt. As she emerged from the scorer's tent, Bradley got numerous hugs and a champagne bath from a mob of admiring players, including Alcott.
"It happened so fast, I didn't have much time to think about getting into the Hall," Bradley recalls. "I knew I was going to get Number 30, but I didn't expect it to come in 1991."
Indeed, by midsummer, 1991 was threatening to become one of those years that would call for familial support in Westford. Bradley had been her consistent self—she would complete the year with 21 Top 10 finishes in 26 tries—but in June she lost the LPGA title on the 72nd hole. Two weeks later, she was second at the U.S. Open in sweltering Fort Worth. Both times, the winner was Meg Mallon, a 28-year-old, freckled charmer who had won only once in her five years on tour. Says Bradley, "The key to accepting those two disappointments was realizing that I did not lose them. Meg shot 67 the last day in both those tournaments."
Bradley sounds convincing, but at 40, she must know that the Mallons of the world, among others, are poised to push her aside. Maybe the memory of 1988, when she won less than $16,000, was behind her startling September Song, the late-season drive that netted her third and fourth wins of the year and boosted her official earnings for '91 to $763,118, the second-highest one-year total in LPGA history. It may also explain her one-word response to win No. 30: "Relief!"
"I think I've been driven more by the fear of failure than the joy of success," she says, scooting over in the shop to make room for a woman trying on ski boots. "You look at a Beth Daniel, a Hollis Stacy, a Nancy Lopez—I couldn't hold a candle to them as amateurs. And I've never had a classic golf swing. My club crosses the target line at the top of the swing, and everybody always told me I'd never make it with that problem." She smiles. "Gardner Dickinson once told me that Bobby Jones did the same thing. I have to tell you, when I heard that, I felt pretty good."
That Bradley would not change her swing is typical. She has lived in the same apartment—a beachfront condo in Marco Island, Fla.—for 10 years. She still performs tasks in the ski shop that she performed at age 10. She still rooms solo on the road and turns down friendly wagers in practice rounds, doing nothing to dispel her reputation among her peers as a loner. "Disciplined is probably a better word for it," she says. "I do enjoy people, but I have a job that needs to be done, and that comes first."
Watching her play a casual round with friends in early December, at the Golf Club at Marco Island, one got the impression that Bradley's "job" was almost done. She swatted her ball around almost heedless of the result. Missing a green, she yelped, "I can get up and down from there!" Ramming in an eight-footer for par, she crowed, "Solid as a rock!"
No game face here. She hadn't played a tournament round since early November, and she didn't plan to compete again until the Oldsmobile LPGA Classic, which would begin on Jan. 30 in Lake Worth. Fla. Suddenly, she had time for jokes and teasing. She'd even been fishing and, she said, had caught a large sheepshead. "Boy, was it ugly!" she said. "It looked like a zebra and had buck teeth."
Asked if she fished often, she laughed. "I haven't learned to take them off the hook yet," she said.
Afterward, Bradley sat on the balcony of her condo, a cap pulled down over her eyes, protection against the dazzling glare off the Gulf. "Now that I'm in the Hall, I would like to back off just a little," she said. "I look forward to walking the fairways as a Hall of Famer and maybe not grinding so hard. But I just don't know if I can be a part-time player." She shrugged. "This could be really the most difficult phase of my career."
They aren't buying that at R.J. Bradley's. "I want her to quit while she's on top," Kathleen says, "but she's playing better now than she's ever played. Pat and Jimmy Connors are proving that 40 isn't old."
Besides, the Bradleys had some serious celebrating to do. The entire clan would attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Jan. 18 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston: Pat's five brothers—Chris and John from Massachusetts, Mark from Vermont, Tom from California and Rick from Hawaii—along with Kathleen.
It was a happy occasion, they all agree, unlike the last family reunion, which occurred at Richard Bradley's funeral in 1988. "The Hall of Fame was always Dad's dream for me," says Pat, who was joined in Boston by fellow Hall members Patty Berg, Betty Jameson, Louise Suggs, Betsy Rawls, Carol Mann and Lopez. "This would have meant so much to him."
It also would be a big day for Westford. Kathleen always marked Pat's tournament wins by taking to the back porch and ringing a leather-handled brass bell. The bell is retired—to the Hall of Fame.
When Bradley was selected Player of the Year in 1986, a Westford developer named a street in a new subdivision Bradley Lane. Kathleen lives on that street today. "I bought the house sight unseen," she says. "I just had to live there!"
At the front of the ski shop, Pat peers out the window. Sun floods the valley. Dust and rock spit from under the wheels of a car leaving the parking lot. "We have to get some cold weather," she says, wrinkling her face with mock annoyance. "They've got snowmaking machines, but nobody wants to ski when it's hot."
If she's still worried about her motivation for the new season, it doesn't show, "I plan to approach 1992 as I would any year," she says. "My first and foremost goal is to win Number 31."
She's smiling, but the LPGA's youngsters had better take notice. Bradley wants her 19th LPGA season to be more than a victory lap.