Pat Bradley impressed with Inbee Park
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Pat Bradley recalls one slightly wistful thing crossing her mind right after she won the du Maurier Classic for her third straight major LPGA title in late July 1986.
"I thought, 'Gee, I wish the Open was in September,' " Bradley said by phone this weekend. "I wish I had a chance at it again."
She was referring to the U.S. Women's Open, the only one of the four majors that year that Bradley didn't claim. But in retrospect, she is nothing but proud that she managed to nab three such titles, joining Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Mickey Wright in that feat. And she couldn't be happier to have a fourth woman join that exclusive group: South Korea's Inbee Park, who won the Women's Open on Sunday at Sebonack Golf Club for her third consecutive major title.
What I marvel at is not only physically -- she has all the shots, and she is one of the best putters the game of golf has seen -- but her mental and emotional being is so calm.Pat Bradley
Bradley, now 62, won 31 LPGA titles, six of them majors. Three of those majors came in that extraordinary year of 1986. So she's one of the few golfers with a good idea of how Park is feeling.
"I have been watching every shot of Inbee's," Bradley said of following the television coverage. "What I marvel at is not only physically -- she has all the shots, and she is one of the best putters the game of golf has seen -- but her mental and emotional being is so calm.
"It's just a joy to watch how she accepts the moment. Of course, we can't get inside her to see how much the butterflies are going around, but the outer part of it is so soothing."
Consider that players such as Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb never won three majors in the same year. [Although it is necessary to point out that during a crucial part of Whitworth's career -- 1968-78, a stretch that began when she was 29 -- there were only two designated majors each year.]
Bradley was 35 in 1986, a decade older than Park, who turns 25 on July 12. In fact, Bradley didn't win her first LPGA title until she was 25, in 1976, but it was a different era then. It was not so common for teenagers to go pro in the 1970s.
Bradley, a Massachusetts native who is still based in Hyannis Port, attended Florida International before turning pro in 1974. She got her first major championship in 1980 at what was then called the Peter Jackson Classic, later the du Maurier. It's generally referred to as the Canadian Open and was designated as a major from 1979 until 2000, after which it was replaced by the Women's British Open.
Bradley won the U.S. Women's Open in 1981. She was a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour in 1983 and won three times in 1985. But fellow Americans Patty Sheehan and Lopez won LPGA player of the year honors those two years, respectively.
However, 1986 -- at last -- was Bradley's time to be atop women's golf.
"It was a magical year for me," Bradley said. "In April, I won the [Kraft Nabisco], which was kind of like our Masters. Then at the LPGA Championship, outside of Cincinnati, it was a golf course I wasn't too sure on. But, lo and behold, before I knew it, the last nine holes I was in the hunt."
And with a birdie on No. 18, she beat Sheehan by one shot.
"My expectations, because of that golf course, weren't very high," Bradley said. "I kind of snuck away with one there."
Then it was on to the Women's Open at NCR Country Club outside of Dayton, Ohio, in July.
"There was a lot of buzz, and I couldn't be under the radar," Bradley said of going in as the favorite to win a third straight major. "It was really hard to kind of put my blinders on and drown out everything that was happening around me.''
And that was a lot. A nearby train derailment caused a chemical fire, forcing the course to be evacuated during practice Tuesday. The fire flared up again Wednesday, and some players had to leave their hotels. There also were severe thunderstorms during the tournament.
Bradley opened that Thursday with a 76 -- "Kind of shot myself in the foot, but I didn't give up" -- yet rallied with a 69 Sunday. It still left her short of a playoff between Jane Geddes and Sally Little, which Geddes won. Bradley finished tied for fifth.
"Then my expectation was, 'I can't win the Grand Slam, but I have an opportunity to go for another major,' " Bradley said.
She ended up taking the du Maurier in a playoff with Japan's Ayako Okamoto. Bradley won an additional title in 1986 and then for the first time in her career, she was LPGA player of the year.
"I had been second a lot for player of the year, but it was a destiny year for me," she said. "I felt I was going to separate myself that year.
"My swing was not one to be photographed, to be put into slow motion or copy. It was for me and me alone. I was very proud of getting everything I could get out of it. I put a lot of myself into every round; I would finish and have a headache sometimes, because I had just worn myself out thinking."
She looks at a player like Park and admires both her qualities that are spectacular and those that are steady. Bradley said she is somewhat surprised that Sorenstam and Webb, in particular, did not ever win three majors in a year. But Bradley said she will not be surprised if Park does triumph in the Women's British and the Evian.
"I have admired her grace and how she calmly takes in whatever is going on around her," Bradley said. "Sure, we like seeing fiery players; that can be fun. But she's just not like that. I'm enjoying watching this young woman.
"I'm rooting for her; I hope she wins the other two. I'll be standing up cheering."