The Good, the Badds and the Ugly

Ask Aaron Baddeley what he scored at Oakmont, and he'll tell you 100%
June 24, 2007

Usually privateclubs don't have open tee times on Sunday afternoons, but on Father's Day atOakmont, Aaron Baddeley and Tiger Woods had secured the last spot of the day,the coveted 3 p.m. slot, to play for the national championship. Going intoRound 4, Badds had the lead.

Tiger, trailing by two, had the honor. He was a sight: jet-black pants (nopleats) and a red, skin-tight mock turtleneck with a spider-web pattern on it.Spidey, with a titanium driver. "He steps up the tee and it's like, 'Whoa,'" said Baddeley's veteran caddie, Pete Bender. Tiger smashed one down themiddle.

Usually privateclubs don't have open tee times on Sunday afternoons, but on Father's Day atOakmont, Aaron Baddeley and Tiger Woods had secured the last spot of the day,the coveted 3 p.m. slot, to play for the national championship. Going intoRound 4, Badds had the lead.

Tiger, trailing by two, had the honor. He was a sight: jet-black pants (nopleats) and a red, skin-tight mock turtleneck with a spider-web pattern on it.Spidey, with a titanium driver. "He steps up the tee and it's like, 'Whoa,'" said Baddeley's veteran caddie, Pete Bender. Tiger smashed one down themiddle.

Then came Badds,an Aussie looking to win his first major (although he did win the AustralianOpen at age 18 in 1999). He stared down the fairway for a long moment with hiseyes closed. Visualize, visualize! In his hands was a dinky little fairwaywood, but he was comfortable with it. He wasn't going to get into a match-playsituation with Tiger. The main thing on number 1--a downhill par-4, 482yards--is to hit the fairway. That, and to two-putt.

The kid lookedcalm and he looked good, in his circa 1975 getup (white shoes, thick whitebelt, white hat, what looked like a brown Munsingwear shirt, plaid pants). Hehitched up his left sleeve, the way Tiger used to do before he went to thestretch fabrics.

Baddeley had hisgame plan and the swing with which to implement it, something teaching prosused to get paid to fix when it was called a reverse pivot. Now they get paidto teach it under a new name, "stack and tilt," in which the weightstays on the forward foot all through the swing. Baddeley's swing coach, AndyPlummer, has a big spread on it in the June Golf Digest. Johnny Miller's beentalking about it on TV. It's all the rage.

Through threerounds, Baddeley's stack-and-tilt action--along with his silky puttingstroke--had produced rounds of 72, 70 and 70. That sounds like dead last at theHope, but Oakmont was tougher than Winged Foot, tougher than Shinnecock Hills,tougher even than Bethpage Black. It was fang city.

Baddeley swung.His play-it-safe tee shot stayed in the sticky right rough, his next threeshots were nothing to e-mail home about, and three putts later he had a leadofftriple. Woods made a textbook U.S. Open 4 to start. "If you're going tomake a triple, the 1st hole is the place to do it," Bender told hisman.

And Baddeley, tohis credit, didn't seem at all freaked out. He followed the messy 1st withrealistic (for him) birdie putts on 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. But he couldn't get ahandle on the speed of the greens, which he said changed from one hole to thenext, and nothing went in. Then came a double-bogey on 7, and his front-ninescore, 41, looked like a giant typo on the press-tent leader board.

As the round woreon, Baddeley's Sunday goals changed, from winning the U.S. Open to breaking 80.He finished in 13th place, seven shots behind the winner, Angel Cabrera, andsix shots behind the runners-up, Woods and Jim Furyk. Just before Tiger took astab at tying Cabrera with a 30-foot birdie putt on 18, Baddeley, grindingaway, tried to will in a 25-footer for a 79. The ball came up a few inchesshort.

So a talentedgolfer screwed up the last round in his first chance to win a major. It'shappened before and it'll happen again. In 1999 Mike Weir shared the 54-holelead at the PGA Championship at Medinah, shot an 80, then won the Masters fouryears later.

Yes, Baddeley shotan 80, but he never quit, he never looked like he was trying to get out ofTiger's way, and he never looked like he didn't belong. Baddeley has anappealing calmness. "There's a wisdom there," says his coach. Baddeleyis only 26, but what Plummer says rings true.

Baddeley--whosefather, Ron, was once the chief mechanic for Mario Andretti--is on a team, withBender and Plummer and Aaron's wife, Richelle. All the way around, Baddeleycould hear Richelle, blonde and bouncy, cheering him on. "I was soproud," she said, "because he was giving 110 percent."

The husband is notone for hyperbole. "My goal was to give 100 percent on every shot, and Idid," said Baddeley, a world-class talent at 18 who endured a long slumpbefore winning at Hilton Head on Easter Sunday last year. "Two years ago, Iwouldn't have had the character to do that. I would have folded under thepressure of playing with Tiger and trying to win the U.S. Open. I didn't dothat. I putted poorly. The swing wasn't quite there a few times, but the effortwas 100 percent." His character has improved, he said, as he has become anincreasingly devout Christian.

If Tigerintimidated his playing partner, the playing partner would not admit it. Therewas almost no conversation between them, but Baddeley watched Tiger closely."I saw how he never putts until he's really ready," Baddeley said."That's something I need to work on."

He'll see more ofTiger next month at Congressional, at the new Tiger event, the AT&TNational. He'll see him again later in July at the British Open atCarnoustie.

The two playershad a brief exchange on the 18th green--Tiger isn't into commiserating,especially when he has just lost--and headed to the scorer's room in theclubhouse. To get there they had to climb a tall flight of wooden steps,painted green. Baddeley, despite a long day at the office, led the way,bounding up the steps by twos. He looked eager to get the 80 behind him, andexcited for whatever comes next.

Read David Feherty's Fly on the Ball at GOLF.com

Baddeley had his game plan and the swing with which toimplement it, SOMETHING TEACHING PROS USED TO GET PAID TO FIX.

PHOTOPhotograph by Simon Bruty Goingbadly
Baddeley had trouble from the start, triple-bogeying the 1st and finishing withan 80.
PHOTOROBERT BECKJOHNNYCOME LATELY
Baddeley tried to channel Miller '73, but the Aussie's usually superior puttingfailed him.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)