Bradley knows landscape of women's Slam run
She has been there, done that.
But that's not to say Pat Bradley is bored and uninterested. To the contrary, this Grand Slam business swirling 'round Inbee Park has her captivated.
"We are talking something very, very special. I was on pins and needles for her (while watching the U.S. Women's Open)," said Bradley, who 27 years ago lived through the drama that is now Park's life. She won the first two major championships of the season and suddenly found her life turned upside down.
Then 34 and in the prime of her Hall of Fame career, Bradley had been denied on several opportunities to win the Nabisco Dinah Shore, including two years earlier. "So I had the feeling that justice would be served and lo and behold, everything came together that year," said Bradley, whose win was solidified at the par-3 17th.
"Val (Skinner) hit her 5-iron to 4 feet, but I hit my 4-iron to 2 feet."
It was her only victory in the Kraft, but two months later she added another career achievement: Her only LPGA Championship.
"Funny thing is, I wasn't too sure of things that week," Bradley said. "I was still living off the Dinah, but we played at King's Island (the Jack Nicklaus Golf Center in King's Island, Ohio) and I wasn't too hip with that golf course. I thought it opened things up for a lot of players. I didn't have any expectations."
Used to tree-lined courses, Bradley thought you could spray it wildly and still be in position to scramble effectively. But when you least expect it . . . Bradley shot 67-72-70 and at 209 was only four off of Ayako Okamoto's lead. When Okamoto shot a Sunday 74, however, it left Bradley in position to try and hold off Patty Sheehan (72-70-69 – 211). Bradley shot 68 that closing round, but stood to the side as Sheehan lined up a 20-footer at the 72nd hole to shoot 66 and tie.
"When she missed (to shoot 67 and lose by one), I was in shock. Couldn't believe I had won," Bradley said.
Five tournaments were played between the LPGA and the U.S. Women's Open that summer; five weeks to let the media enthusiasm percolate. When finally it was time to gather in Kettering, Ohio, at NCR Country Club, the only question that mattered greeted Bradley right away.
"They asked me, 'What do you think about the Grand Slam?" Bradley said, laughing. "I told them, 'I do,' " as in she did think about it. A lot.
"It was really hard to put aside. I really just wanted to focus on what I had to do, but it was not easy to do."
Unlike the other major in Ohio, the LPGA, Bradley was smitten with NCR. "It was fabulous, traditional and what I had grown up playing," she said. "But I opened with 76 and that wasn't very good."
If it took the steam out of the Grand Slam talk, what happened next compounded things – a series of events that lended chaos to the feel of the tournament. Torrential rain. A train accident. Then, on top of that, a chemical leak at a local plant. Those mishaps forced officials in several areas to re-route traffic and block major roads, creating issues for players getting to and from their hotels.
"It was crazy, but it gave me time to say to myself, 'OK, let's just stay focused,' " Bradley said.
She added rounds of 71 and 74 and while she wasn't in the thick of things, Bradley felt that some final-round magic could give her an opportunity. Instead, she closed with 69 and would finish three behind Jane Geddes and Sally Little. While Geddes won in a playoff to dominate the headlines, Bradley took comfort in knowing she had given it her best.
"I was thrilled to have been involved and I had fun. It was there for the opportunity, but it didn't happen," Bradley said.
Thwarted in her bid for the Grand Slam, Bradley didn't field any questions when two weeks later the LPGA Tour landed at the DuMaurier in Canada. It was the season's final major, but ho-hum. Even when Bradley shot 66 Sunday and beat Okamoto in a playoff, the media didn't cause a stir. Bradley had won three-quarters of the Grand Slam, an admirable feat, for sure, but it wasn't the whole pie.
So she laughed and told reporters, "I wish the U.S. Women's Open is next week."
Well aware of the feelings that come with a Grand Slam pursuit, Bradley is a keen observer of what has been going on this season. Park, 25, has won the Kraft Nabisco, the LPGA Championship, and – accomplishing what eluded Bradley – the U.S. Women's Open.
Three down, one to go. It should be a time for delightfully wild madness in the world of the LPGA Tour, which certainly needs it, and Bradley is pulling for Park. "The hard part, I would have thought, would have been the U.S. Women's Open, but she won that with such ease. Her demeanor appears so comfortable."
In Bradley's mind – which is consistent with what so many others think – the quest should come down to what happens at the Old Course in St. Andrews the first four days of August.
"Being a traditionalist, I look at it as, 'If she wins the Women's British Open, she wins the Grand Slam,' " Bradley said.
Four for four. Touch 'em all. Simple. Clean. The way it's always been.
Only Bradley knows the landscape, how the LPGA Tour, for whatever reason (and chances are it revolved around lots of money) said that the Evian Championship (Sept. 12-15) in 2013 will be a fifth major. Bottom-liners will thus say that a Grand Slam is winning all the majors, that if Park wins the British but not Evian, she's only captured four-fifths of the Grand Slam.
"We've struggled as an organization in our traditions," she said. "This year we started a new tradition (a fifth major), but we'll see how long that lasts."
What bothers Bradley is that the LPGA Tour needs a delectable storyline and what could be better than a player winning the Grand Slam on the Old Course in St. Andrews, of all places? "You couldn't ask for a greater story, just perfect."
Take it from someone who came agonizingly close to scripting her own perfect story 27 years ago.