Pioneer Pat Bradley Still Charms with Enthusiasm and Wit

Spain was such a high point, such fun and such a time to reflect. Every morning before light’s first shimmer turned the Mediterranean from black to indigo to blue – an outrageous hour by Spanish standards – LPGA Hall of Fame member and six-time major champion Pat Bradley marched from her rental unit on the Andalusian coast to a bus full of volunteers, player parents, media and staff for a 15-minute ride to Finca Cortesin and the 2023 Solheim Cup matches.

No matter the time of day or disposition of her fellow passengers, you could count on Pat to jar everyone awake with a hearty, “Morning!” which came out “Ma-nen,” in a Massachusetts accent that, while not quite extinct, is on the endangered species list.

She loves the matches, still, after all this time. What they have become and what they could be in the future is, for Pat, a microcosm of the women’s game. “What’s the old adage? Make the world a better place for the next generation,” she said. “If you look at the game today, my generation left it better for today’s players just like the generation before me left it better for us.”

Pat will be honored as an LPGA Pioneer at the upcoming Cognizant Founders Cup in 

Upper Montclair, New Jersey, proceeds from which will benefit the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf programs. This is a significant milestone for a player who won 31 LPGA Tour events from 1976 to 1991. In 1986, Pat won three majors, and she captured the Vare Trophy and Rolex LPGA Player of the Year honors in both 1986 and 1991.

“At the beginning of the year, the commissioner (Mollie Marcoux Samaan) called and said that they would love for me to be a Pioneer at this year’s Founder’s Cup, and I said, ‘Really, I’ve reached that stage?’” said Bradley. “But then I looked at my age and realized that I have become a pioneer to these youngsters.”

Then she thought about the women who were pioneers for her, athletes like Judy Rankin, Donna Caponi, Sandra Haynie and Carol Mann who showed young Pat the ropes on the LPGA Tour. She had grown up an alpine skier and a good enough player to win the New England Women’s Amateur twice and become an All-American at Florida International University before turning pro in 1974. Pat’s brother Mark became a PGA club pro in Woodstock, Vt., and would later father a boy named Keegan who, himself, became a major champion.

“I knew many of our Founders,” Bradley said. “I played with many of them. I knew and played with Marilynn Smith; I knew and played with Patty Berg; I knew and played with Marlene Hagge-Vossler; I knew Shirley Spork and spent a lot of time with Shirley. I knew Betty Jameson and, of course, I knew Louise Suggs well. Louise came to my Hall of Fame induction.

“These were very courageous women, and I thank them every day for the courage and perseverance they showed in a time when they weren’t considered significant. They showed the love of the game and of creating an association that would last for years and would help other young women pursue their dreams. To be honored as a Pioneer during the week dedicated to The Founders is thrilling.”

It’s not Bradley’s only appearance on the LPGA Tour this year. She was in Houston for The Chevron Championship, attending the annual past champions dinner.

“Nelly Korda is stepping up as everyone thought she would and hoped she would,” Bradley said of Korda’s incredible run. “She is in the middle of history.”

Then she reflected for a moment.

“The game is big business now,” she said. “It was a family thing back in my day. Nobody other than Nancy Lopez had an agent. We were just getting by. When I joined the LPGA Tour in 1974, we had 32 events, and the total purse in those 32 events was $1.2 million. Today, it is over $120 million. Things have come a long way. But today’s players have to travel the world many times over to do their job. It’s incredible to see the gift they bring to the world every time they put a peg in the ground.”

She’ll also be back in September at another Solheim Cup, dressed in her nation’s colors and waking everyone up with another round of emphatic good mornings.

“We hoped and prayed that the Solheim Cup would get to the point that it is today, but we weren’t sure,” she said. “There were only eight of us on that first team in 1990 at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club.”

That event was played in front of a smattering of fans - friends and family, really, with only a handful of media members along for the ride.

“It was such a thrilling moment back then to have Karsten and Louise Solheim show such faith in us,” Bradley said. “To see what the event has become now with thousands and thousands of fans cheering and singing and dressing up, it’s just amazing.”

But there is one bit of trivia that Bradley wants everyone to know.

“Nancy Lopez and I were partners in the opening (foursomes) match in 1990, and we weren’t sure what we were doing,” Bradley said. “We never discussed strategy. I don’t think one time did we say, ‘What ball are you playing?’ We were just together.

“So on the putting green before going out, Nancy comes up to me and said, ‘Pat, how are you feeling?’ I said, ‘Nance, I’m feeling okay, but I’m a little nervous.’ She said, ‘Yeah, I’m a little nervous, too.’ Then she said, ‘What do you want to do?’ We were almost on our way to the first tee. I said, ‘Well, Nance, you’re always even-keel, and I can be kind of odd at times, so I’ll be odds and you be evens.’ That’s how we decided. And that’s how it came to be that I hit the very first tee shot of the Solheim Cup.

“To this day, Nancy is not happy that she gave up hitting that first tee shot. She didn’t think about one being an odd number.”

Pat laughs about that moment to this day. “You could win a lot of contests knowing that tidbit,” she said.

Then she turned serious once more. “I just want today’s players to be true to themselves,” Bradley said. “Believe in yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish. The records you want to set, the majors you want to win, it’s all about hard work and belief.

“The longevity that this game gives us, and the ability to be honored, even at this stage in my life, is very special. Very special.”