"I look back at the year, and at times I even amazed myself."
So who's choking now? Not ol' Pat, not anymore. Just when it looked as if the LPGA might have to offer 2.9% financing to get anybody to care about the women's golf tour, along came Pat Bradley and her year of playing wonderfully.
Roger Clemens has had a great season in baseball. Ivan Lendl had a great year in tennis. Larry Bird had one in basketball. In 1986 Pat Bradley has had herself a career, five victories, including three of the four women's majors.
By the time Bradley got to San Jose last week for the Konica Classic, the last domestic tournament of the year, everyone was saluting her performance, the likes of which has rarely been seen before in all of golf's history—women's or men's division. LPGA commissioner John Laupheimer and the players even stood and applauded their leader at a meeting Tuesday night, an occurrence that brought the ironsided Bradley close to tears.
Many of the players on the LPGA tour were even reputed to be practicing their own versions of The Stare, that otherworldly, emotionless, zoned-out and occasionally intimidating facial expression that "Brad" conjures up as soon as the red numbers begin to appear next to her name on the tournament leader boards. Says fellow pro Muffin Spencer-Devlin, "If I could steal something from Pat, I'd swipe her concentration."
Throughout her career, the alltime leading LPGA money winner—Bradley passed JoAnne Carner this season and stands at $2,283,946—has had to fight a hook as well as several phobias and quirks. For instance, Bradley is afraid to fly, even though her brother, Rick, is a hotshot Navy pilot. She also has a fear of losing her golf clubs. She frets over bumpy greens. And she puts a lot of stock in dreams. This year, as Bradley played her way to the top, she even learned that a headache at the end of the day was a sign that things had gone well. It meant that she had been concentrating, that The Stare was working. "It is so intense," she says.
Bradley's play this season has been so sharp that the current ladies' locker room rumor is that Nancy Lopez, who gave birth to her second daughter in May, has stayed off the tour a bit longer than she might have only because Bradley is too good. Wrong, counters Mama Lopez: "I just don't have anything to shoot for. My goal for next year is to be Number 1 again."
For now, No. 1 belongs to Bradley, together with her lucky 13—she has it on her license plate, and in competition she will use golf balls numbered 1 or 3 only. This season (her 13th, naturally) Brad won 75% of the majors—the Nabisco Dinah Shore, the LPGA Championship and the du Maurier Classic—and finished tied for fifth in the other 25%, the U.S. Open. She also took the World Championship of Women's Golf and the S & H Golf Classic in St. Petersburg. With the Mazda Classic in Japan yet to be played, Bradley is assured of her first Player of the Year award. She is also the year's leading money winner with $489,749, has the $125,000 Mazda points bonus locked up and will probably take the scoring title as well. You might say that she has run the table.
"There are three things in life," says tour caddie Dee Darden. "Death, taxes and Bradley on the leader board."
Someone compared Bradley's season with that of Greg Norman, the dominating force on this year's men's circuit. "Yeah, but he lost three of the four majors," said Bradley. "I won them."
Not bad for a 35-year-old grayhead with a history of so many second-place finishes that she was once given the unflattering nickname of Layup Pat. Now she is Payday Pat.
Of course, Bradley also finished second six times in 1986 (is that bad?), increasing her career runner-up total to 42, exactly double her 21 victories. "The choker thing was a lot of baloney," Bradley said last week before finishing tied for 22nd place in San Jose. "They—the players, the press and the public—didn't like the way I played. They said I was too conservative. It was a bunch of——."
This season Bradley became the first woman golfer ever to win all four of the majors in a career, and as well, the first to shatter the $2 million mark in career earnings.
Her vintage '86 began with second-place finishes in Sarasota and Costa Mesa and continued with a classic self-destruct number in Tucson when, four shots in the lead after the first two rounds, she limped home in 72-76. Two weeks later, though, she got rolling again and won the Nabisco Dinah Shore by rifling a four-iron to the 71st green and sinking a 10-foot birdie putt. Said Darden, who once toted Lopez's bag, "I looked at [Bradley] when she made that putt, and she was not in this world."
"I've seen a videotape," says Bradley. "He's right."
The rest of the year was quite a ride for Payday Pat. At St. Petersburg, humming her theme song, Walking on Sunshine, Bradley finished with a 65 that was topped off with a final-hole 25-footer that clinched the victory. At the LPGA, Bradley matched Patty Sheehan's 72nd-hole birdie with a bird of her own, a 12-foot tournament winner that left Sheehan pounding her fists on the ground in frustration. At the du Maurier, Bradley, nine shots back on Friday, roared home with a 67-66, then blasted Ayako Okamoto with a birdie on the first hole of sudden death.
"People don't think she has charisma because she is so serious on the course," says Val Skinner, another LPGA pro. "Her charisma comes from winning. The players think she should be the athlete—not just the golfer—of the year."
"It was frustrating in past years, because deep down I knew I had the talent to win," says Bradley. "I've gotten raked over the coals for what I haven't done. Now maybe I'll get praised for what I have done." She certainly deserves to. Since 1983 what Bradley has done is to win 12 tournaments, including four majors, as well as finish second 18 times. Moreover, Bradley now has had nine consecutive $100,000 seasons.
A year ago Bradley was so pleased with herself for battling Lopez right to the end in the race for No. 1 that for Christmas she gave herself a $7,000 watch, a duplicate of Lopez's prize. Bradley calls it "my own Player of the Year award."
Now she'll have one for each wrist.
Bradley's five wins and six seconds leave no doubt about who's No. 1 this season.
The Stare, as demonstrated at the Konica Classic, is something that Bradley's competitors have learned to fear as well as emulate.