By the time TigerWoods turned pro in 1996, at age 20, he was nearly wholly formed as a golfer,setting an impossible standard for all who followed. Aaron Baddeley, 26, andJeff Quinney, 28, can attest to that. Around the turn of the century Baddeleyand Quinney were considered can't-miss kids, but the road to stardom would befar more complicated than either could have imagined. Last week's FBR Openserved as a showcase for their developing careers, with mixed reviews. Thanksto a spectacular closing 64, Baddeley earned his second PGA Tour victory in thelast 10 months, confirming that yes, at last, he is a young talent to bereckoned with. On Sunday evening he compared the FBR victory with hisbreakthrough at Hilton Head last April, which ended a five-year winlessdrought. As he said, "The first one felt like more of a relief, where thisone is more like, All right, now I'm making headway to where I want togo."
And where does hewant to go?
"I want to bethe best."
Quinney, a rookieby way of the Nationwide tour, continued to be one of the surprise stories ofthe year, as he held a final-round lead for the third straight week. Yet onceagain it slipped away. Two strokes up with three holes to play, he bogeyed thefinal two holes to finish third, two behind Badds. But even after the crushingdefeat Quinney took the long view. "I'm not going to let this bring me downat all," he said. "I can learn from it and get better nexttime."
February 12, 2007
The FBR, played atthe TPC Scottsdale outside Phoenix, was not the first time Quinney and Baddeleyhave crossed paths. They both played in the 2001 Masters, though the only thinganyone remembers about that tournament was that Woods completed hisunprecedented Tiger Slam. Quinney had punched his ticket to Augusta by winningthe 2000 U.S. Amateur. Though he was twice a second-team All-America at ArizonaState, it was Quinney's thrilling overtime victory in the Amateur, at storiedBaltusrol, that created sky-high expectations that he knew in his heart hecouldn't live up to. "The Amateur was a little bit of a surprise," hesays. "I was a good player, but my game probably was not ready to competewith the best in the world."
After graduatingin 2001 with a degree in finance, Quinney plied his trade on the Canadian tour,winning twice, and then moved up to the Nationwide tour, on which he toiledfrom 2002 to '06. As a career minor leaguer he was often lumped in with otherrecent Amateur champs who have fizzled as pros, but Quinney hadn't given up onhimself, even if everyone else had. "I kept telling myself it was a matterof when, not if," he says. "I wasn't in a big rush. I knew I wasimproving every year, through swing changes and simply becoming comfortablewith the travel and the whole thing that professional golf entails. I knew Iwas going to be O.K."
Baddeley sharedlittle of this patience, and it nearly drove him out of the game at the ripeold age of 19. He had first burst onto the scene in 1999, as a cocky17-year-old competing against the pros in his native Australia. After beingpaired with Baddeley at the '99 Greg Norman Invitational, Gary Player said,"The best young player I ever saw was Jack Nicklaus. I think this youngman--and I don't say this lightly--has the ability Jack Nicklaus had at thesame age." The hype machine nearly melted later that year when Baddeley, asan 18-year-old amateur, outdueled Norman and Colin Montgomerie in the finalround to win the Australian Open. He turned pro shortly after the 2000 Masters,settling in Scottsdale to begin his assault on the PGA Tour. By September ofthat year he had missed the cut in seven consecutive events on Tour. "Ivery clearly remember this one night in September 2000, sitting on my bed in myapartment and telling my dad I wanted to walk away from the game," saysBaddeley. "I meant it too. I was so tired of missing cuts, so tired ofplaying poorly and being frustrated all the time. I was homesick, missing myfamily and my friends. Basically, I was miserable."
A longheart-to-heart with his swing coach, Dale Lynch, helped Baddeley refocus, andthat night he wrote out a series of long- and short-term goals. Alreadyspiritual, he gave himself over to prayer and the Bible for guidance. "Itwas the worst time in my life, but I wouldn't change any of it because itforced me to grow as a person," he says.
Baddeley got ashot of confidence by winning a second Australian Open late in 2000, but afteranother run of missed cuts on Tour in '01 the onetime boy wonder swallowed hispride and reported for duty on the Nationwide tour in '02, joining Quinney. Byvirtue of a 10th-place finish on the money list Baddeley earned his way back tothe big leagues for 2003, and this time he stuck, thanks to a newfounddetermination and a silky putting stroke that instantly was the envy of theTour. In the summer of '03 Baddeley also met the woman who would become hiswife, Richelle Robbins, who further grounded him. "Richelle is myrock," he says. She is a Scottsdale native, and last week the Baddeleyshanded out about 80 passes to friends and family, many of whom turned out onSunday in turquoise T-shirts emblazoned with badds brigade.
The final piece ofthe puzzle fell into place in late 2005, when Baddeley hooked up with tag-teamswing coaches Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett. They have helped refine his long,loose, inconsistent action into a swing (Big Play, page G15) with much of theeconomy and poetry of countryman Steve Elkington, who has also worked withPlummer and Bennett. Last year at Hilton Head, Baddeley led a prayer service onthe 18th green at sunrise on Easter and that afternoon held off Jim Furyk in aback-nine dogfight, draining a clutch six-footer for par on the 72nd hole topreserve the victory. Harbour Town is a claustrophobic shotmaker's course thatfavors ball control; it is a measure of Baddeley's versatility that he can alsowin at the risk/reward TPC Scottsdale, a noted bomber's paradise. Baddeleysurged into contention last Saturday with a seven-under 64, during which heripped eight drives of 300 yards or more. He began the final round two strokesback of Quinney but sent an early message with an eagle on the par-5 3rd hole,smoking a four-iron from 230 yards to within three feet of the hole.
Quinney was gamefor the fight, at least until the bitter end. He learned to mix it up as theyoungest of four brothers in a very athletic family. For 13 consecutive years aQuinney played varsity basketball at South Eugene (Ore.) High, and Jeff earneda permanent place in Axmen lore by once hitting six consecutive three-pointersin a half. "All the Quinneys are good shooters," says one of thebrothers, D.J., 32, a walk-on quarterback at Oregon. "We get it from ourdad." That would be Bob, who was an all-state basketball player in highschool and went on to play at BYU. His other two sons were also collegeathletes: Rob, 40, played golf at Oregon, and Mark, 36, was an all-conferencetennis player at BYU. The house they grew up in had a game room with aneight-foot-high hoop and carpeted floors. "It was basically tacklebasketball," says Mark, "and Jeff was the tackling dummy."
No doubt that'show Jeff feels after this three-week run of near misses, which began at the BobHope Chrysler Classic. On Sunday at the Hope, Quinney pulled off the shot ofthe year so far on Tour, acing the 17th hole to get within one of the leadbefore ultimately tying for fourth. A week later, at the Buick Invitational, hegave Woods all he could handle until an unsightly double bogey on the 12thhole.
As the second- andthird-round leader at the FBR, Quinney had to respond to questions about hisinability to close the deal, and on Sunday he seemed to offer an eloquentanswer with back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14, pushing his lead to two strokesover Bart Bryant and putting him three up on Baddeley and John Rollins. ButQuinney lost his nerve and his swing coming in, missing a six-footer for birdieon 15 and then snap-hooking his drive into a water hazard on the short par-417th. Baddeley stormed to victory with three straight birdies that were adazzling display of power and touch: He reached the par-5 15th with athree-wood from 269 yards, drained a 24-footer on 16 and then got up and downfrom 50 yards on the 17th, sinking a key 10-footer.
"What makesAaron so dangerous is that his ball striking has become very consistent, andthere are days when he will make virtually every putt he looks at," saysPlummer, with a nod to Baddeley's opening 65 that included 10 consecutiveone-putts and only 20 putts overall. "Even with a tournament in the balancehe has no fear."
The same cannot besaid for Quinney, at least not yet. But like Baddeley, he could look to Sundayas a measure of how far he has come. The victor was talking about winning majorchampionships and challenging Woods, just as he did when he was a carefreeteenager. However disappointed Quinney was, he chose to focus on the practicalbenefits of a third straight top 10 for a player who for so long has struggledto find his place. "I basically locked up my Tour card for next year,"he said, "and it's barely February."