- Golfer Benefits
By: Steve Derderian
SANDWICH, Massachusetts – From the moment I stepped onto the grounds of The Ridge Club on Friday afternoon, the positive energy was palpable. On a cloudless, balmy day on Cape Cod, spectators and volunteers alike were beaming with excitement witnessing two dozen of some of the best LPGA pros in history competing together in their senior years.
Friday was the 5th playing of the BJ’s Charity Championship, an 18-hole, two-person scramble tournament featuring four LPGA Hall of Famers and other legends in the women’s game. The Legends of the LPGA, the official senior tour of the LPGA showcasing golfers age 45 and over, sponsors the event each year.
While many of these women were in their prime before I was even born (1993 for the record), their skill level is still remarkable. Their names carry so much weight: Hollis Stacy, Michelle McGann, Amy Alcott, Jan Stephenson, and Suzy Whaley (just to name a few). And let’s not forget Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, arguably the greatest female golfer to hale from Massachusetts who now resides in Hyannisport. (Much more on her later). I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit New England legend Jane Blalock, a 27-time LPGA Tour winner, who has helped make this event possible year after year.
Anyway, lest this turn into a script suited for an awards ceremony, here’s a walkthrough of my day through the eyes of a “kid” in relative terms who got to stand in awe of these incredible golfers and meet some gracious people along the way.
I almost never luck out with this kind of timing. I wanted to spend a good portion of the afternoon watching Bay State legend Pat Bradley. After all, the Westford native is an icon, having won six majors, including three of the LPGA Tour’s majors in the same season (1986).
The Ridge Club is completely surrounded by housing so it’s extremely difficult to find shortcuts, especially on foot. Therefore, I figured I’d catch up with Bradley around the 9th hole which happened to be the closest to where I was parked. Sure enough, I turn the corner and Bradley and her playing partner Jamie Fischer are on the green. Perfect.
Sure enough, Bradley had hit her approach shot to the front of the thin green that is surrounded by sand in an upside-down horseshoe pattern. Then the 1981 U.S. Open champ proved why she was among the world’s best as she drained a 25-footer that barely snuck in the left side, drawing vibrant ovation from the crowd. One volunteer shouted, “That’s why she’s a legend!”
“I didn’t think it was going in, I thought it was just going to hang on the lip,” Bradley later said. “Then I kind of gave it a little hip action and it went in.”
While the crowd applauded when each wave of players walked up to the green, I was struck by how the players clapped for one another when they made a great shot, and how they directly embraced and thanked the crowd in return.
As Bradley exited the green and walked down the path to the cart, she thanked everybody for being out there. As routine as it may seem, I always love seeing a positive interactions between golfers and fans, no matter what level.
Bradley’s splendid interaction was far from the only one.
I stayed at the 9th to watch the final two groups behind Bradley and Fischer play, and sure enough, we saw McGann pour in an equally impressive birdie putt and wave to the group with her signature straw hat. As she walked off the green, an older gentleman in the crowd had a brief conversation where he mentioned he was a diabetic. The issue hit home for McGann, a self-described diabetes advocate, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 13. She handed him a poker chip with a crossout symbol over the letters T1D (type 1 diabetes).
As you can tell, I can’t say enough on how warm and welcoming people are, even to a random guy with a camera around my neck and a black notebook tucked away in his pocket.
I met a mother and daughter who drove down from the South Shore to watch the action, and it was nice to hear their stories of how golf keeps them active, and that watching these ladies compete is nothing short of inspiring.
After the final group left the 9th green, I knew I’d be hoofing it to get back to where play was happening. By the 10th tee, I met another photographer, Linda Sharp, who was taking photos for the LPGA Legends. Sharp is married to Rick Sharp, who has spent most of his life as a professional photographer on the various professional tours. The couple now makes their home in Sagamore Beach, making last Friday a home game for them. After exchanging cards, Linda told me to be on the lookout for Rick. With a big grey beard and a large camera lens, she said he shouldn’t be too hard to find.
Sure enough, as I reached the 12th, Rick is there taking photos of Jan Stephenson and Laura Diaz as well as Rosie Jones and Michele Redman. He has stories about all of them, and is keenly aware who to be cautious around, especially when driving a cart near play. He offered to give me a lift out to wear Bradley was playing, which required driving backward through play for a few holes. Thankfully we didn’t have to hard brake for anybody in the middle of their swings.
I had Rick drop me off by the par-3 14th, which stretches over a valley. But as we got to a spot in between the 14th green and 15th tee, a familiar face came zooming by: Ridge Club member Emma Abramson, this year’s Mass Girls’ Junior Amateur winner, looping for past U.S. Women’s Open winners Hollis Stacy and Amy Alcott. (Stacy won the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open at Salem).
Stacy and Alcott, who had played golf together since there were teenagers, and were match play competitors in the 1969 U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur. On Friday, like many in the field, hitting fairways and greens wasn’t much of an issue. The pair moved to 5-under with a long, 40-footer for birdie on the 9th, but couldn’t find a birdie the rest of the way. Still, Abramson said she enjoyed the time spent with these two Hall of Famers.
“They were all so awesome and so knowledgeable about the game,” Abramson said. “Just to be in the midst of greatness and great players is cool.”
For the first two years, Abramson got to caddy for Suzy Whaley, the first woman President of the PGA of America, and Michelle McGann, and the year prior was with Pat Hurst and Juli Inkster, two Solheim Cup captains. She wrote about that experience in Sports Illustrated Kids. To read the article, CLICK HERE
Earlier in the week, Abramson also got to play with Jane Blalock and Trish Johnson, who have over 50 professional wins combined.
“Whether it’s playing with them, caddying for them or talking with them, you’re learning more things,” she said.
The excitement kept building as Bradley and Fischer came down the final stretch. They didn’t stray much from being in regulation, and with Fischer’s excellent putting, it started to feel like destiny.
On the par-3 17th, which has an island green that is reminiscent of TPC Sawgrass’ signature 17th, Fischer and Bradley both found the green safely, and Fischer proceeded to drain a putt from outside 15 feet to put them at 12-under, the score they’d ultimately finished.
The rest was a formality as their score of 59 had given them plenty of breathing room to take home this title for the first time as a team.
“To have posted this score with Pat Bradley is probably one of the best days I will ever have in golf,” said Fischer, whose mother Amy used to play with Bradley on tour. “She represents what it means to be a golf professional. All day long, she thanked fans for being out here – not just on the last hole, but the whole way around.”
At the finish, Bradley shared a long, emotional embrace with her brother Chris. This year has been especially emotional for the Bradley family as their mother Kathleen Bradley, who rang a Swiss cowbell after each one of Bradley’s victories, passed away on May 7 this year. While there were some tears shed after the competition ended, Bradley was thrilled with the effort and being able to play in front of a hometown crowd.
“At this stage of my career, I’m just thrilled to see people come out and cheer us all on,” said Bradley, 71, who frequently plays at Hyannisport Club. “I know my years are limited in tournament golf, but to be able to share this with Jamie and my family and friends and people on the Cape, it’s just incredible. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Well said, Pat.
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A few other notes from Friday: