RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Along about 6 p.m. Sunday in Westford, Mass., Pat Bradley's dad began loudly ringing a bell on the back porch of the family home.
Pat had won the $430,000 Nabisco Dinah Shore tournament with an eight-under-par 280 and he wanted the neighbors to know, so the bell rang as it had for her 16 previous Ladies Professional Golf Assn. wins. Before long the street was clogged with horn-honking cars.
Bradley is 35 now, a veteran of 13 seasons on the LPGA circuit and lives in Marco Island, Fla., but she is still the darling of Westford.
In the Dinah Shore, the richest woman's tournament in history and the first of the year's major championships, Bradley held or shared the lead at every milepost, but it had never been easy.
When her final putt settled into the cup on No. 18 at the Mission Hills Country Club, her score of 68-72-69-71--280 was two strokes better than the 71-72-70-69--282 of Val Skinner.
The difference was the two strokes Skinner lost when she hit her first tee shot out of bounds Sunday.
Once Juli Inkster--who beat Bradley in a playoff here in 1984--dropped from contention with a series of bogeys, Bradley's only concern was holding off the fast-closing Skinner, who had four birdies in the final five holes.
Third, at 285, was Mary Beth Zimmerman, followed by Betsy King at 286. Inkster, who was tied with Bradley after two rounds, had a 76 to fall into a tie at even-par 288 with Jan Stephenson and Jane Geddes.
Mission Hills' 6,275 yards proved such a tough adversary for the women that only four players bettered par for the 72 holes. There were only 11 rounds in the 60s during the entire tournament.
Bradley won an LPGA-record $75,000, while Skinner won $40,000, a bigger paycheck than she received for her two wins.
"It's history, I won it, but I never breathed easy until I made that last putt," Bradley said. "I have lost a few tournaments in the last moments and Val was keeping me honest."
Bradley actually sealed her win on No. 17 when she met the youthful Skinner's challenge head on. Skinner had just made two birdies to pull within three shots of Bradley when she hit a 5-iron shot on the 170-yard hole that stopped six inches from the cup.
"I really thought she had holed it out for an ace," Bradley said. "I saw her shot land and sort of dance around the hole. I thought it might be leaning against the flagstick."
If it had, that would have cut the margin to one as Bradley stepped to the tee.
"I made a good swing and was pleased when the ball came as close as it did (12 feet) to the hole," Bradley said.
When she made the 12-foot putt for a birdie of her own, it negated the effect of Skinner's tap-in two.
"When I hit my shot on 17, I thought it might rock the boat a little, but it didn't," Skinner said. "Pat is so steady. When she made that putt, it showed she deserved to win. I have a lot of respect for her. Truthfully, I really enjoyed watching her play today."
Bradley, a much more intense player than the gregarious Skinner, said she barely knew who she was playing with.
"I had such tunnel vision out there, I didn't know what was going on except what I was doing," Bradley said. "Dinah told me she came out a couple of times to watch and I didn't even know she was there. It is physically exhausting, playing like that, but today it helped me keep myself under control.
"When I started to feel the tension, I talked to myself, giving myself a little pep talk. I kept saying everything was going to turn out all right and not to get discouraged and the strategy worked."
Skinner said she had never been as nervous in her career as when she stood on the first tee.
"I knew I was in trouble when I took a practice swing and my bracelet fell off," she said. "Then I took another swing and nearly fell down I was so nervous. When I tried to hit the ball, my backswing broke down and I hooked my drive something terrible."
The ball headed toward a stand of trees, well inside the out of bounds stakes, but it hit a tree and bounced straight left, nearly into a swimming pool.
"I'm almost as proud of myself as if I had won," Skinner said. "I didn't let that shot get me down and I still shot 69 with the two-stroke penalty."
Bradley almost met a similar fate on the second hole.
Fighting her reputation of not being able to hold a lead, Bradley started shakily and bogeyed the first hole with a three-putt green that cut her margin over Inkster to two shots.
On No. 2, a 488-yard par 5, Bradley hit a 3-wood second shot that looped left and stopped rolling about two feet from the OB markers.
"I could feel more gray hairs growing at that moment," Bradley said.
She salvaged a par and settled down with consecutive birdies on No. 4, when she hit a 6-iron six feet from the flag, and No. 5 when she drilled a 50-foot putt up a slight slope that fell into the cup.
Her lead jumped from two to four strokes on the fourth hole as Inkster made a bogey from a greenside bunker.
When the final round started, it was chilly and raining, but surprisingly the rain slacked off and the desert air warmed.
"The weather wasn't all that exciting today, but it didn't matter to me what it did. All I was concerned about was hitting the ball solid and putting well and I did it. In fact, I did it for four straight days."
The win, Bradley's first since last August, made her the year's leading money winner with $154,224 and moved her close to becoming the LPGA's first $2-million career winner with $1,948,421.
Kimberly Williams from Potomac, Md., won low amateur honors with a 73-297 after early leader Danielle Ammaccapane faltered with closing rounds of 78-81--302.
Williams, 23, played three years at Mississippi State and finished at Florida International--Bradley's alma mater. She plans to turn pro in October.
The women move to San Diego this week for the Kyocera Inamori tournament at the Bernardo Heights Country Club.