Aaron Baddeley: "It's the quality of your bad shots that matters."
Two-time Australian Open champion Aaron Baddeley has endured some tough times during his professional career, but perhaps none more testing than his current predicament.
After a relatively mediocre first half of the 2013 season, Baddeley ditched instructor Dale Lynch and quietly hired his former caddie in a quest to improve his swing.
Baddeley has been mentored by Lynch for most of his career, but he switched to Dion Kipping after becoming disillusioned with his long game.
But the change, so far at least, has not reaped any improvement.
Indeed, the Victorian seems to have regressed. He has missed the cut in 12 of his past 13 starts on the US PGA Tour and will only keep his card for next year thanks to a couple of good early-season results and a recent tie for ninth at the Canadian Open.
He is 119th on the FedEx Cup points list and admits that without his short game he would have lost his card.
Baddeley is a relentlessly positive character, at least outwardly, a result it seems of a natural sense of self-belief that is reinforced by his devotion to Christianity and the belief that God is always watching over him.
But his current slump is testing him as never before, at least in the professional sense. He had a disastrous slump after leaving Lynch for David Leadbetter a decade ago (before later returning to his boyhood coach), but this time it seems more acute because, at 32, he is no longer a youngster with unlimited potential, but more a middle-aged (in golfing terms) pro trying to keep pace with the young bucks.
“I felt I needed to make a change because I wasn’t improving and if it wasn’t for my short game I probably wouldn’t have a job next year,”
Baddeley told Golf Australia after missing the cut at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro at the weekend.
“Lynchy did a really good job but the clubface was just too active through the ball. That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to get better.
“I’ve seen some positive things on the range but I haven’t played that good on the course. The game’s eluding me right now.”
Since giving up caddying, Kipping has become an instructor based in Melbourne, and Baddeley is his first star client.
It might seem a strange decision for Baddeley to work with Kipping instead of a more established big-name instructor, but he’s always been his own man, never afraid to make a bold decision.
“Dion knows me as good as anybody,” Baddeley explains.”We’ve known each other since we were about 12. He knows my game and that’s why I went to him for a second opinion to ask what he thought and I liked what he said.”
Baddeley’s long game at Greensboro was not pretty, although it made for some pretty pictures. Indeed, a huge photo of him hitting the ball from a concrete path on a bridge on the eighth hole was plastered on the front of the sports section of the local paper last Friday.
Also during the first round, at the par-four 11th he sliced his tee shot out of bounds – so wide that the marshals in the landing area couldn’t find the ball.
“Best we can tell it (the ball) came down in the middle of the magnolias,” a marshal said after a fruitless search.
Baddeley asked caddie Anthony “Ant Man” Knight for another ball and reloaded, only to hook his second tee shot left.
Such travails would be enough to test the patience of any professional, but at least there was no petulant outburst by Baddeley – no throwing of clubs or whining to his caddie.
And whereas many players would refuse an interview after missing a cut, Baddeley politely and patiently answered questions that he perhaps would rather not be asked.
He says that age has taught him perspective – that there is more to life than golf – and that having a healthy family is more important than splitting fairways.
“I’m a bit older, a bit wiser and I understand golf’s not the most important thing in the world,” he says.
“Having a great wife and three great kids puts things into perspective. I still want to play good but golf’s not the be all and end all. Sometimes it’s tough but then there are times don’t think about it at all, and I just enjoy being at home.”
He ranks 185th on tour this season for driving accuracy and has hit barely 50 per cent of fairways, a statistic of which he is well aware.
It seems a lifetime ago that Baddeley burst onto the scene, winning the 1999 Australian Open as an amateur, before repeating the following year as a professional.
He made no secret back in those heady days that his goal was to be the world No. 1, but such lofty ambitions are taking a back seat right now.
Three PGA Tour victories are nothing to sneeze at, but Baddeley wants far more out of his career, including major championships, and he is taking inspiration from his former amateur rival Adam Scott, who this year won the Masters and contended in the British Open and US PGA Championship.
Baddeley says Scott has the best long-game in the world: “He comes from a nice shallow position and the clubface stays quiet through the ball so there’s no real timing involved.
“That’s what I’m trying to get better, so the bad shots are just a little bit off as opposed to being a lot off - so the good swings are real good and the bad swings are still good.
“That’s the name of the game, the quality of your bad shots as opposed to the quality of your good shots. Everyone on (the PGA Tour), the good shots are all the same. It’s the quality of your bad shots (that matters).”
Scott and Baddeley will both contest the Emirates Australian Open at Royal Sydney from November 28-December 1. But while Scott will receive the celebrity treatment worthy of the nation’s first green jacket owner, Baddeley will be trying to recapture the halcyon days of his youth.
Baddeley’s got such a great short game and putting touch that if he ever gets his driver straightened out (pun intended); there is still time for him to reach the heights he is seeking.
The pinnacle seems a distant sight right now, but golf has a habit of throwing up surprises.
“I’ve got to figure some stuff out,” Baddeley says wistfully. “Good thing I have a short game.”