BETHESDA -- Pat Bradley remembers the good old days on tour. "You'd come to a tournament and you could count the number of players on one hand who would be there [contending] on Sunday afternoon," said the 17-year LPGA veteran.
Already this year, there have been 15 different winners since the women teed it up in Jamaica five months ago, with just Jane Geddes and Beth Daniel making it to the winner's circle twice.
The same applies in men's golf and throughout tennis. There's more depth in tournament fields, and they're getting deeper all the time. Hazarding a guess, it's probably safe to assume the prize money and the seemingly glamorous life have something to do with it.
"It's a lot different from when the LPGA started in 1950 with only 40 players," said Bradley. "Odds are a little different with 144 players teeing it up every week."
Every so often, however, along comes a tournament, like the Mazda LPGA Championship getting under way at the Bethesda Country Club tomorrow, and you can start hacking away at the top contender list.
"This course requires a lot more shot-making, and that will keep a lot of players at bay," she continued, mentioning the layout's narrow and tree-lined fairways, menacing rough and small, undulating greens. Hmmm, sounds like a U.S. Open course.
"Exactly, the course is set up like a 'major.' It will play long with not a lot of roll and good iron play will be a prerequisite. Bethesda brings in every element of the game and there's not much room for error," she said.
Instead of making the 6,264-yard, par-71 layout sound like a bogeyman, though, Bradley waxed poetic as if eulogizing a long, lost friend, referring to it as "hallowed ground." Which is understandable considering her partiality for the tough courses invariably summoned to host major tournaments.
"I can assure some of the girls who haven't played here before that just hitting the greens won't do it. There will be a lot of tough putts to contend with over quick greens if you don't spike your approach," she said. "And there are holes out there that even though they aren't doglegs will appear so because of the gorgeous overhanging trees."
Just last Sunday, Bradley, Sally Little and eventual tourney winner Daniel went head-to-head-to-head during the final round of the McDonald's Championship in Wilmington, Del. She enjoyed that battle so much, she sought out Daniel as a partner for yesterday's last serious practice round.
At the same time, she had to be thinking she was checking out the player who probably draws the favorite's role in this 37th run for the LPGA title. Especially since Daniel is the defending champ and, in three shots at the course, has won twice and finished second the other time.
Then there are the other women who are closing in on the number of tournament wins (30) required to gain entry into the organization's Hall of Fame -- Amy Alcott, Patty Sheehan, Little and Betsy King -- plus the players Bradley regards as up-and-comers, Rosie Jones, Tammie Green, Dottie Mochri and Sherri Steinhauer. Sounds wide open.
Bradley owns six major titles, has won 27 tournaments total, is the tour's all-time money leader ($3,350,000) and has done it all. Still, she said, "another major would look awfully good on my resume and I'd feel even more like I was picking up where I left off in 1986."
That year and after dominating things for a couple of seasons, Pat fell prey to Graves Disease (hyper-thyroidism) and had the bottom fall out for a while. She won a tournament and finished second three times in 1989, then captured three events and finished in the top 10 a whopping 21 times last year.
"My health is back to normal, I've got my malady well under control, things are flowing quite nicely and I'm thrilled with the way things are going," she said.
If that isn't a signal for the field to watch out, what is?