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Jim Murray

On the Links, Pat Bradley Rates a '10'

March 05, 1987|Jim Murray

The 10th-best golfer in the world never played in the British Open or the Masters, is not Seve Ballesteros, a blond from Germany or Brigham Young, never caddied and probably can't hit the ball within 40 yards of Davis Love III.

The 10th-best golfer in the world could qualify for that "Do you know me?" credit card commercial, never had a ticker-tape parade, could walk into any restaurant without arousing the autograph pack and would qualify as a mystery guest who could stump any panel even unmasked.

The 10th-best golfer in the world doesn't even carry a 1-iron and might be hitting a 4-wood where Greg Norman would be feathering a 6-iron.

But, that's nothing. The 10th-best golfer in the world likes to go around in high heels and silk stockings when it gets dark, and wears eye shadow. And although there's no 1-iron in the luggage, there might be a curling iron or even a pressing iron.

So, who says Patricia Ellen Bradley is the 10th-best player in the world? Well, let's see. How about the IRS? How about Dun & Bradstreet? Any banker? How about 2,286,218 experts?

Right or wrong, you measure golfers by money won. And right there is where Pat Bradley removes all doubt.

At the close of business last year on the women's tour, she had made $2,286,218.03 on the golf course in her career.

This was less than Jack Nicklaus ($4,912,295). But it was more than Johnny Miller ($2,267,789) and more than all but nine other golfers in the history of the game.

If you think that's not remarkable, consider that the money played for on the men's tour last year was $25,442,242, while the women's was $10,000,000. The men were playing for $10 million since 1978, while the women's tour the year Bradley entered it, 1973, offered only $1.5 million (the men's tour that year was $8.65 million).

No one argues that Pat Bradley could win the British Open, and maybe not even the B.C. Open, from the back tees.

But she is the one to beat in any field that tees it up in shorts or skirts and/or lipstick--as she is in the GNA-Glendale Federal tournament that begins today on the picturesque mountain-backdropped Oakmont course in Glendale.

Pat Bradley doesn't have the syrup-on-waffles swing of a Sam Snead, she doesn't manhandle a course like an Arnold Palmer, she thinks her way around a golf course like a Hogan or a Nicklaus. Her ball is where she wants it to be, not where it wants it to be. She's like a bridge player who doesn't always lead with her trumps.

"Pat has the ability to think two shots ahead," a playing partner, Kathy Whitworth, once explained. Pat plays golf the way generals play chess. She engineers a round of golf, she doesn't just make it up as she goes along.

Pat Bradley had to learn how to play that way. She picked up the game in her native Massachusetts and nearby New Hampshire, where the season is about 72 holes long, and Mom and Dad ran a ski and tennis shop, and she had to put away her 9-iron in favor of downhill skis for six months of every year.

"I was a pretty good amateur; I won the New Hampshire state amateur when I was only 16. But when I came out into national play, I got beat six ways by all those girls from California, Florida and Texas, where they play every day and had years more playing experience. The Nancy Lopezes and Amy Alcotts were miles ahead of me."

They were also yards ahead of her. But not for long. Pat Bradley took the act to the sun belt herself (Dade County-Miami Junior College), where you could play golf past Labor Day. By 1976, she had won a tournament, and by 1978, she was winning them in multiples.

She became a model of consistency. Like the great ones, she either won a tournament or came close. You seldom had to look down more than a handful of places to find the name of Pat Bradley. Her rounds of golf were textbook demonstrations of the place to be on a golf course. She could go 10 tournaments without having a downhill putt--or a downhill lie, if it came to that.

Last year, she had the kind of year that comes along all too infrequently in this era of parity sports. She won five tournaments, he was second in six. She played 100 rounds of golf and was under par in 56 of them. She won three of the four "majors" on the women's tour. She shot a 63 final round once and she won $492,921 and swept all the women's honors including player-of the year, Vare Trophy (lowest average score per round) and an LPGA trophy for consistent high placing (fifth or better earns points).

Only 12 women and 15 men have won more tournaments. Her 10th-place ranking became a bit shaky when Johnny Miller won the AT&T last month, but no one who knows Pat Bradley is worried about anyone overtaking her. The ones who should be looking back over their shoulders are the Ben Crenshaws, Andy Beans, Hale Irwins and company. With the women's tour at $10.65 million, not even the $4-million winners, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, are safe from her approaches, so to speak. She may not only be the best golfer in the world pound for-pound, but dollar-for-dollar.

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