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.
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."