Comfortable Baddeley turns back the clock, gets back on top

February 20, 2011
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- By all accounts, Aaron Baddeley is an extremely level-headed young man with a deep-rooted faith.

Fourth-round coverage
UNABLE TO FINISH: Though he was happy with his overall performance, Fred Couples came up short in his quest for victory No. 3 at the Northern Trust Open. Story
STRONG REBOUND: After falling six shots behind the lead Sunday, Kevin Na bounced back to post a third-place finish. Story
FINDING HIS STROKE: Vijay Singh averaged just 26 putts per round at Riviera Country Club en route to a second-place finish. Story

So it shouldn't be surprising to learn that the 29-year-old Australian sees the last two years when he was reconstructing his swing as character-building, as well.

Both were put to the test on Sunday at the Northern Trust Open. Baddeley's swing and his psyche held up well, though, as he won for the first time in four years, eventually beating World Golf Hall of Famer Vijay Singh by two strokes.

The win, which was the third of Baddeley's career, validated the work he has been doing with Dale Lynch in an attempt to take his swing away from the stack-and-tilt method and back to the way he played as a teen. He played with total confidence on Sunday, too, as he turned back challenges from some of the game's most experienced players.

"As tough as the last two years were, I knew what I was working towards," Baddeley explained. "... Even though I got frustrated at times and discouraged at times, I knew my end goal, so I was able to be patient. That was the key. I had to be patient because I knew my game has been there for a while, I just haven't got the scores on the board.

"I really feel like there was a lot of character that was being built over the last couple years."

Indeed. Baddeley found out just how much as he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to be quickly tied by Fred Couples, who birdied his first three holes. Although clearly the sentimental favorite, the 51-year-old veteran couldn't keep pace, and it was the resurgent Singh who soon started to apply pressure.

The Fijian actually closed to within a shot with a birdie at No. 11 but bogeys on Singh's next two holes gave Baddeley a cushion he wouldn't relinquish. That said, the young Aussie did make a messy double at the 12th hole but had the fortitude to put it behind him and sink a clutch 25-footer with about 8 feet of break for birdie on the next.

"It's definitely been a couple of long years, but it was worth every bit," Baddeley said. "I really feel that the last couple years is actually what made it easier today just because of having to battle and having to grow into so much for a couple years, the character that was just built in me, I guess."

Baddeley began working again with Lynch, who was his instructor from the time he was 13 until he was 20, in March of 2009. The change came slowly, two steps forward, another step back. But now Baddeley is more comfortable with the variety of shots he can hit and eager to test them in competition.

"I'm really enjoying the fact of I can (sit) there and I'm going to hit a 10-yard fade, a 30-yard hook and just have fun on the golf course again," said Baddeley, who said the biggest change was being able to move to the right and hit a draw again.

Working with Lynch, Baddeley added, "felt like coming home." He won the Australian Open as a 19-year-old amateur so the two must have been doing something right, after all, and Baddeley says he feels like a kid again" now that he's been reunited with his mentor.

Sunday's victory was a popular one with his peers, too. Within minutes, his peers on Twitter were sending their congratulations in 140 characters or less. Text messages and phone calls were sure to follow.

And just as Baddeley had done when Jonathan Byrd broke a three-year victory drought last year at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Childrens Open, the South Carolinian waited to congratule his friend at the 18th hole on Sunday. Baddeley was there for Bubba Watson's victory last month at the Farmers Insurance Open, too.

Baddeley closes out his win

Aaron Baddeley gets up-and-down on the 72nd hole to finish his win at the Northern Trust Open.

"It's just awesome that we've got such great friends out here and people that really care for you," Baddeley said. "It's not just about trying to beat each other, it's just about really caring for one another. That's pretty special."

PGA TOUR officials also received an e-mail from Greg Norman, who will captain the International Presidents Cup Team at Royal Melbourne in November. All of a sudden, Baddeley, who started the week ranked No. 224 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is front and center on the radar screen.

"Aaron has been very successful on tough, demanding and difficult tracks with his previous victories and this victory is no different, and one that is long overdue," Norman wrote. "He now catapults himself into a strong position to secure a spot on this year's International Presidents Cup Team. I have always been a fan of Aaron, and personally, I am proud of him and his victory at the Northern Trust Open. As Captain of the International Team this year, I know he would be a very valuable asset to the team."

The Presidents Cup is one of many doors that opened Sunday for Baddeley, who will have many travel plans to change now. With the win, he earns a spot in the Masters and PGA Championship, as well as many of the invitationals, and next year's Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Clearly, though, to play for the man who was his idol as a kid, would be the something very special for Baddeley.

"To play a Presidents Cup in Australia, that would be like an absolute dream," Baddeley said. "I remember watching in '98 going down there and seeing the guys, Freddie, seeing Jim Furyk, seeing all the guys down there, seeing Norman playing, all those guys. I wanted to play in Presidents Cups. So it's definitely something that I'm going to keep working hard towards to try and make that team."

Sunday was a big step forward in more ways than one.