Aaron Baddeley had a very rewarding, 2-shot win yesterday at the Northern Trust Open. He managed to get it around Riviera Country Club in 2-under in his final round. It helped that the Los Angeles weather cooperated; cool and sunny is much better than the rain many feared.
Baddeley, like many Tour players before him, set out to “get better” once he’d enjoyed initial success. After a stellar win in his native Australia Open as a 19-year-old amateur in 1999, he returned the following year and did it again. He ultimately played his way on to the PGA Tour via the Nationwide Tour in 2003. His win in the 2006 Verizon Heritage in Hilton Head was his first and set him up with a two-year exemption. The $1.5 million on the year was nice too. He won the FBR Phoenix Open and $3.4 million the following year. And $1.7 million in 2008.
Over this period, he moved away the swing of his youth that got him there and adopted the Stack and Tilt method. It was all the rage with feature articles in the golf magazines about this revolutionary new way to hit the ball. I don’t know enough about it to articulate its details, but I do know that when I hit my first sand wedge with it, the quality of the contact was, hmmm, thrilling. So I can see the attraction although I quickly decided to keep doing what I was doing. And ultimately, Baddeley did do too returning to his childhood coach and mentor, Dale Lynch. But decoupling from Stack and Tilt did not come easy.
There were some great snippets in Baddeley’s post-round interview that spoke directly to the process of mastery:
Yeah, no, it’s definitely been a couple of long years, but it was worth every bit, and 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…so much for a couple years, the character that was just built in me, I guess.
And he spoke about the iterative process of rebuilding a swing and the belief and patience that’s required:
I [restarted with Lynch back in March of ’09]. …I actually felt like I’ve made more progress than what the scores have actually shown to be honest. I felt like I could have played better earlier, just the scores weren’t on the board. But each time we’d make progress we’d take a step or two back. After you’d make the progress, go out on the course, play a tournament, something would pop up and you’d have to fix that. So just step by step, we just sort of put the pieces together, built the foundation, and it was great, like the product today was just being able to hit the shots [Ed: right, left, high, low] that I needed to hit.
And he spoke about what it feels like to come out of the tunnel on the other side of the mountain:
I think I’m in a different situation…now with my game. In ’06 with Hilton Head, I was in the building stage with the stack & tilt, and then ’07 I had a good year after winning FBR. But I feel like my game is at a different level where I’m not trying to keep working on stuff. Like right now I’m just sort of maintaining the foundation, and then I’m really just trying to go out there and play golf. Like I’m really enjoying the fact of I can still [stand] there and…hit a 10 yard fade, a 30 yard hook and just have fun on the golf course again.
…Again, you’ve got to keep your short game sharp, so that’s the key [Ed: because it gives you the freedom to miss shots. Freedom is the key to everything in golf].
Once again he was asked about what it takes to overcome the doubt that he might never win again:
…As tough as the last two years were, I knew what I was working towards. Like Dale and I, we had an end product that we knew what I was working towards, and I knew I was going to get there, whether it took another year that might have been frustrating, but at the same sense, I knew what I was working towards. Even though I got frustrated at times and discouraged at times, it was still I knew my end goal, so I was able to be patient. That was the key. I mean, being patient, 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 [Ed: and baseline mastery skills too].
And he talked about rekindling his relationship with his coach, what that’s entailed and what it’s allowed him to do:
… to be honest it felt like coming home. It sounds weird, but he had such an impact on my golfing career growing up and such he was very much like a mentor, like the way I thought, the way I practiced, the way I went about everything, he was such a huge influence. To be able to come home come back to Dale really felt like coming home because it felt like I was becoming a kid again, and that’s what made it fun, you know. [Ed. A lot to be said for that, “kid again,” state of mind.]
I mean, we put a lot of work in. …Dale and I have spent a lot of hours together, and at times it’s been frustrating, but like I said, that end product we knew what we were working towards, and that was the key.
And then, in the heat of battle yesterday, he moved beyond the platitudes we’ve all heard ad infinitum and talked about just what it takes when you’re under the gun and playing in the same group as fan-favorite and legend, Fred Couples:
I was still just trying to focus on my game and just try to do what I needed to do. …I was still right there, I was still only one back. It wasn’t like I was three back. For me it was just trying to keep doing what I was doing.
And it worked out in spades. As you may know, Baddeley is a very religious young man and sees his faith as fundamental to outcomes in his life. So it’s fitting that this is what he tweeted late last night from his Scottsdale, Arizona home:
Just walked in our house great to be home!! Trophy in hand after an amazing day! And now playing play-dough with my daughter! So blessed!!
So too, are we all.