Try squinting. You can just make out a few skiers on the tree-lined slopes across the highway, toward Boston. It's three days after Christmas, and Westford, Mass., is expecting sunny skies and an afternoon high of 50�. Such forecasts are like receiving a lump of coal from Santa if your fortunes arc tied to the Nashoba Valley Ski Area. But nobody is moping at R.J. Bradley's Ski and Sport Shop. Pat Bradley is home for the holidays.
"Pat and I spent Saturday at Cape Cod," says Bradley's mother, Kathleen, who is happily rearranging a rainbow of sportswear on a nearby circular rack. ""But usually I roust her out of bed in the morning and she helps out here. When we opened, 36 years ago, I had five kids under 10 years old. They all learned to ski really young, and they all helped out at the shop."
Kathleen looks across the sales floor at her prematurely gray daughter, the famous golfer, who is helping a customer decide between two ski jackets—one optic fuchsia, the other neon mauve. "Pat was a terrific skier." says Kathleen. "When she finished high school, she didn't know whether to try out for the U.S. ski team or go south and play golf. So her dad stepped in and said, 'You're going south to play golf.' "
That was in 1969. Since then, Pat has come home for the holidays as regularly as a migratory fowl. Some years she has returned for solace and support. Such was the case during her college days at Florida International in Miami; also during her first 2� seasons on the LPGA tour, which were winless; and again during her late 30's, when Graves' disease, a thyroid condition, sapped her strength and she plunged from No. 1 on the money list in 1986 to No. 109 two years later. Other years she has brought home triumphs to share: her first LPGA victory (the 1976 Girl Talk Classic), the first of her six major titles (the 1980 Peter Jackson Classic) and her sleighful of goodies in 1986, which included victories in three majors and Player of the Year honors.
This time, though, Bradley, the tour's alltime leading money winner, has topped herself. She has descended on Westford with four more LPGA titles, another Player of the Year award, the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, the tour's money-winning title and, finally, the highlight of her career—her impending induction as the 12th member of the LPGA Hall of Fame.
"I knew she'd do well, but never in my wildest dreams did I think she'd be in the Hall of Fame," Kathleen says. She emphasizes the word fame, unwittingly making the point that her daughter was a somewhat gray presence on the tour even before her hair turned. "She doesn't crave the spotlight," says Kathleen, "and she doesn't get it, because she's so low-key."
Low-key? O.K., in the sense that Bradley plays tournament golf briskly, silently and with no discernible joy. " Pat Bradley is a great player," LPGA glamour girl Jan Stephenson once sniped, "but what can you say about Pat Bradley but what she shot? All she does is practice and play."
However, when Bradley is out on the course, her eyes—alert, searching—betray her, as do the muscles below her jaw, which sometimes twitch under pressure. Her favorite word is grind, as in, "I didn't give up; I kept grinding out there."
For Bradley, low-key is a necessary veneer, controlling the competitive fire that rages within. But, hey, dress her in ski clothes and she can sell her weight in mittens. Bradley steers a customer to the register, where her brother Chris takes over.
"Would you like a tour?" she asks another visitor. Her accent is classic Bean-town, pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd. "This is where we lived," she says, weaving through racks of women's sportswear. "If you can picture it, this was the dining room, the living room and two bedrooms."