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A visit to a famed swing coach helps slumping tour veteran turn things around (for a day) at Waialae

January 14, 2021

Aaron Baddeley plays his tee shot on the par-3 17th during the first round of the 2021 Sony Open in Hawaii.

Cliff Hawkins

HONOLULU — At age 77, Butch Harmon’s days of wandering PGA Tour driving ranges are over. But that hasn’t stopped players from going to see him in Las Vegas. In recent weeks, golf’s swing whisperer has provided council to players ranging from Jordan Spieth to Aaron Baddeley.

Thursday, it paid off for Baddeley.

The 39-year-old Aussie, who has missed the cut in 12 of his last 14 starts, made seven birdies and just one bogey en route to a six-under 64 in the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii. He trails leaders Peter Malnati, Jason Kokrak and Joaquin Niemann by two shots.

“It’s been a really weird stretch because I feel like I’ve been playing well,” said Baddeley, a four-time PGA Tour winner. “I’d play all right and hit one poor shot or something and end up missing the cut by a shot. I feel like I missed a bunch of those by one shot. It’s such a fine line. I felt like I was playing well and just wasn’t quite getting it done.”

So that prompted him to make the four-hour drive from his home in Scottsdale to see Harmon in Vegas. Baddeley has been working with him since August.

“He’s given me two things to focus on,” said Baddeley, whose last victory came at the 2016 Barbasol Championship. “I’ve just been working on those every day and seeing it getting better and better and better, and it was a matter of just trusting what I’ve been doing and going out and just playing golf.”

Those two things? Footwork to help him get through his left side and releasing the clubhead through the ball. Harmon added that the two also went back and looked at old footage of Baddeley's putting. Harmon noticed that Baddeley used to stand farther from the ball and was more bent over at address and because his stroke is on an arch returning to that helped him get that feel again when he was one of the best putters in the world.

It paid dividends at Waialae Country Club, where Baddeley had a mostly solid day off the tee and hit 14 of 18 greens. He also putted it well—the strength of his game, generally—making nearly 110 feet of putts.

Turning to Harmon also brings back memories.

Early in his Baddeley’s career, the famed instructor was critical of the young Aussie, saying publicly in 2001 that Baddeley should let his clubs do the talking instead of his mouth. A few years later, after Baddeley split from David Leadbettter in 2005, it was rumored that Baddeley was interested in turning to Harmon but the two never connected.

There have been a carousel of coaches in the years since.

Among them is Aussie Brad Malone, who also coaches Adam Scott. But because of COVID-19 restrictions, Malone is currently stuck in the United Kingdom.

“I remember talking with [Butch] years ago,” Baddeley said. “There’s not many guys better than Butch, you know.

“It’s been good just to simplify [my swing] and so every time I go practice, I do the same thing and I just keep getting better every day.”