PHOENIX — A pregnant Nancy Lopez is missing from the LPGA tour that moves to Costa Mesa this week, but Pat Bradley pretends not to notice.
"Nancy's been out before, doing exactly what she's doing now," Bradley said with a smile. "I don't look at any tournament any differently, no matter who's here or who isn't here."
But if Lopez had been missing for the last nine years, Bradley could be the queen of the links. Instead, as Lopez awaits the birth of her second child in May, Bradley still is in waiting among the tour's royalty.
Last year Bradley averaged 71.30 strokes per round. Only one other player has ever shot better: Lopez in 1979, at 71.20, and last year, between kids, a record 70.73.
Last year Bradley won $387,377. Only one other player has ever won more: Lopez, with $416,472 the same year.
One begins to get the drift.
Lopez wins the '85 Mazda-LPGA Series (week-by-week finishing points), with Bradley second. Lopez wins the LPGA Championship, with Bradley second. But a month later Bradley wins the Rochester International, with Lopez second, and an Austrian cowbell rings in Westport, Mass.
"It's right by the phone in the kitchen," Bradley said. "Whenever I win and make the phone call home, mother grabs it and goes to the front porch and starts ringing that bell, and the neighbors realize what has happened.
"When I won at Denver she grabbed the bell and a police car stopped and said, 'Which one did she win?' "
The bell has rung 16 times since Bradley, 34, turned pro in 1974. The neighbors love it. But if it rang every time she placed in the top 10, they'd probably get up a petition.
Even the LPGA Player Guide states, with no nod to Lopez, that Bradley is "possibly the most consistent player in LPGA history." She has led the tour in sub-par rounds each of the last three years, has a record streak of eight $100,000-plus seasons and has won more money since 1980 than anyone, including Mama Lopez.
Her seventh-place tie in the Samaritan Turquoise event Sunday was as low as she's been in four tournaments this year.
So where's the hype? Where's the freckled face on the Wheaties box, the quips with David Letterman?
Perhaps Bradley's curse is her consistency. She has been second 37 times, in the top five 138 times and in the top 10 192 times. Like the New England teams she relates to and roots so hard for, she's always very good, but sometimes not quite good enough.
"I've lost so much money on the Red Sox that I've gotta keep playing," she said.
The final round of this year's LPGA opener at Boca Raton, Fla., coincided with the Super Bowl.
"I wore a Patriots hat to practice and to tee off, and more people wanted to buy that hat off me," Bradley said. "The next week I said, 'OK, you want to buy my hat?' No one wanted it."
She hopes the Celtics will rebound from last year's NBA title loss to the Lakers, whom they trounced a week ago.
"I saw some of that game," Bradley said. "Whoee! They are strong."
But strength alone does not hang banners in Boston Garden or ring bells in nearby Westport.
"I've had 37 seconds in my career and you figure, gee, if you only got half of those--we don't want to be greedy--but there's nothing I can do," Bradley said. "There are some weeks I have screwed up. There are other weeks somebody came out and shot 65 the last day.
"But I guarantee you before my career is over, I will set a record that no one will break in the number of top 5 finishes, top 10 finishes, seconds--it will never be broken," she said. "Never."
"Winning is wonderful, and I want to be a winner, and I have won, but to have 13 years of this type of success and this type of record is in the long run 10 times better than winning this week and then not winning for another five or six months.
"I've never wanted to be a fly-by-nighter: here one week and you can't find me the next. If I can be in the hunt then I know there's going to be a day that's my day, or someone's going to mess up and might help me through the door. God knows I've helped somebody else through the door a number of times."
Bradley, a sturdy 5-8 has the strength and stamina to handle the LPGA grind. But in the '85 Uniden LPGA Invitational at Costa Mesa, she pulled a rare disappearing act after two rounds--the first time she had missed a cut in 121 tournaments dating to 1980.
"It was extremely devastating," she said. "I had a hard time that Friday night coping with the idea of missing the cut."
Bradley always had played well on the difficult Mesa Verde Country Club course, winning the Women's Kemper Open there in '81 and placing second to Lopez in the '84 Uniden.
"When I finished it was close, and I thought there wouldn't be a problem," she said.
She went back to her hotel, telling herself that everything would be all right.
"But I did not call to find out until 10 o'clock that night. I didn't want to call up and ask. I was afraid of the answer. When they said (the cutoff was) 152, and I knew I was 153, it was a sickening feeling.