Aaron Baddeley returns to a major championship, having seen his patience rewarded
Aaron Baddeley has a friend who caddied for him for six months nicknamed Captain Obvious. After his victory July 17 at the Barbasol Championship, Baddeley received a text message that read, “Perseverance is a quality only belonging to those who never stopped persevering.”
Baddeley’s victory was indeed proof of perseverance, which is why it was so popular among his peers. The mop-haired former phenom was on his seventh swing coach since turning pro at 19. At 35, he was nonexempt, not sponsored and ranked 244th in the world when he beat 21-year-old South Korean Si Woo Kim on the fourth playoff hole in Opelika, Ala., the same Sunday the golf world’s attention was on the Open Championship at Troon.
Another congratulatory text Baddeley received was from Australian countryman Adam Scott, a contemporary who won the Players Championship and the Masters and became the No. 1 player in the world. Greg Norman also expressed his pleasure, having known Baddeley since the 1999 Australian Open, when the then-18-year-old amateur beat Norman and Colin Montgomerie to win.
“My phone kept blowing up,” Baddeley said from his home in Scottsdale last week. “It was pretty cool to see how many reached out, took the time to shoot me a text.”
Among the senders was 1991 British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch, who could relate to Baddeley’s struggle with getting lost among too many instructors. Baddeley’s search to find the driving accuracy that would complement his extraordinary putting included work with David Leadbetter, Stack and Tilt gurus Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer, biomechanics specialists Chris Como and Grant Waite, and two stints with childhood teacher Dale Lynch.
“The problem,” says his father-in-law, Rick Robbins, “was that everybody wanted to fix Aaron Baddeley.”
Still struggling to find fairways when he arrived at last year’s John Deere Classic, Baddeley sought the help of Scott Hamilton, an instructor based in Cartersville, Ga., who has three players (Hudson Swafford, Russell Henley and Boo Weekley) among the top 10 in total driving on the PGA Tour.
Their work came to fruition at the Barbasol, where Baddeley ranked eighth in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/putting. “Classic case of a phenomenal talent as a kid who was over-method-instructed,” Hamilton summarized, using Col Swatton as an example of a swing coach who didn’t try to “remanufacture” Jason Day’s swing.
“The thing I watched Aaron go through that was the hardest, was not knowing how to prepare mentally or physically for the next event,” Robbins says. “I saw the look of frustration. I saw the quit in his face, and he’s not a quitter.”
How quickly life has changed for Baddeley, who with his wife, Richelle, travels the tour with four children ranging in age from 1 to 7. He can plan out a schedule through 2018, balancing work with quality time at home. He doesn’t have to stare at his cellphone every Friday at 5 p.m. to see if he’s exempt the next week. He also gets a spot in this week’s PGA Championship and next year’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
“Always an unbelievable attitude,” Baker-Finch says. “It’s hard to fight through an issue like that and keep going when you keep banging your head against the wall time and time again, knowing you can do it but wondering if you ever will again.”
And then, subbing for Captain Obvious, Baker-Finch offered one last thought. “Maybe now he can afford a haircut.”
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the July 25, 2016 issue of Golf World.