26 Nov 2013
Aaron Baddeley remembers just about every shot, at least the important ones, and the putts running into the back of the hole. And he and his caddie, Dion Kipping, humming songs from the rock band 'Taxiride' as they sauntered along the Royal Sydney fairways completing a triumph that would have been ridiculous if it were not true.
And Michael Campbell, the Kiwi whom he was playing with, grabbing his putter at one stage, and theatrically rubbing his own putter against Baddeley's Scotty Cameron blade, as though this would trap some of the magic coming from that implement.
Baddeley was a fearless 18 but a mere amateur pitted against a field of professionals that included Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie. His win in the 1999 Australian Open remains one of the great stories of Australian golf, and the Melburnian who became the youngest-ever winner of our most prestigious tournament is back at the scene again, imagining that he could reprise it over the next few days in the Emirates Australian Open of 2013.
"It's pretty amazing that it's 14 years, that's just flown by,'' he said today. "I remember hitting the ball well but I putting really well. Then coming down the stretch on Sunday I hit a lot of good quality shots especially at 16, 17 and 18.
"So it was big week for me emotionally and career-wise, but then I didn’t realise how big it was at the time. The goal that week was just to play well. I thought it would be great if I could win, but then didn’t realise how big the win actually was.''
At 33 and as a father of three, Baddeley is still chasing that feeling, tinkering at the edges. To be fair, he has had his moments -- he won the Open the next year too, and he has won three tournaments in America -- but he has never fulfilled the huge expectations that were raised that day in 1999. As his contemporary Adam Scott has soared to incredible heights, Baddeley has flatlined.
His 2013 season was his worst for a decade and included two coach changes. A couple of years ago went back to Dale Lynch, his original coach, in a move that most people in the industry applauded. Then earlier this year he parted ways with Lynch for the second time and hired Kipping, his original caddie, as his coach. Six months on, Kipping has gone and Baddeley is working with Grant Waite, the former New Zealand professional, and Waite's partner Chris Como, a biomechanical specialist out of Dallas.
Change is the only constant in his golf. "It was a little difficult with the distance with him (Kipping) being in Australia, so that didn’t work out and I wasn’t playing all that well,'' said Baddeley. "But then I did make some improvements with him but then didn’t see it on the scoreboard.''
Waite is regarded as highly technical, and Baddeley likes what he sees. "I've adopted the approach rather than trying to understand it all. I'm just trying to understand what works best for me, and just what I need to do to play good. I’ve made a couple of little changes, only small changes but major in the sense that they’ve made a big difference.''
In 2013 Baddeley missed more cuts (14) than he made in America, with just two top-10 finishes, a season which he acknowledges was ''a struggle'', when his driving and greens-hit statistics plummeted into the bottom handful of tour players. With the new 2013-14 season already having started, a top-five finish in Malaysia, with a 66 on the final day, was a morsel of vindication for the coach change. As ever, he is optimistic.
"I really like where I am at with my game and working with Grant now I feel we have a really good plan,'' he said. "I'm excited taking the road ahead and I’ve seen some really good improvements with Grant while my statistics have improved, and so much as I’m already very excited about the 2014 season.''