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Greg Norman not the role model for Aaron Baddeley

They were three words to send a major palpitation through the heart of any golf lover. They were "Baddeley", "emulate" and "Norman", and they appeared in a headline the other day.

The message was not spelled out in any length but it was basically that Aaron Baddeley would turn pro in the US and thus set out to emulate the deeds of The Great White Shark.

And as Norman is probably Australia's most polarising sportsman, the palpitation would have meant either "You beauty" or "No, no, no".

I am not one of those who believes that young Baddeley, after his Australian Open win and his capable American debut in the Honda Classic, should stay a lilywhite to learn his trade.

Grab the money, son! You are hitting the same pill with the same stick on the same paddock. And a fat bank balance should make you sleep better.

If you are going to hit the road, you might as well travel in style.

But emulate Greg Norman? That will get you an argument at any bar in the world.

If it means winning a heap of tournaments around the world, there will be no debate.

Australia has been waiting too long for its next superstar and we are already smoothing out the armchair for the pleasure of watching Baddeley's deeds on the world stage for the next 20 years.

If it means being one of the most charismatic figures in world sport that is okay too. Sport, these days, is entertainment and nobody remembers the drones.

And if it means bringing people out to the golf in hordes, stoked on the excitement of the Shark ripping at a course, the sport will owe an eternal debt.

But, of course, in the matter of Norman being the kid's "mentor", the naysayers will shudder.

Does this mean not living up to the world's greatest potential?

Does it mean choking at some of the key moments in a sporting life?

Does it mean accusations of trying to be bigger than the game?

Does it mean appearing to devote more effort to becoming super rich than super successful in the tournaments that count?

Does it mean building the image of a franchise with a five iron?

Does it mean ostentatious displays of wealth, being the boy with the biggest toys?

Does it mean crowding the week of your national Open with business meetings and having a chopper waiting at the 18th to swan off to look at a new fishing boat?

Does it mean never being out of the headlines, for whatever reason?

Does it mean sitting in a press tent in your own country and telling the world that you have no friends on the golf tour?

Does it mean heading into the twilight of your career with no major on American soil, where you make your home, and your golf game just not cutting it, no matter how many times you insist that you are now devoted to it?

My advice to Baddeley would be to thank Norman for his kindness and go his own way.

My advice to Norman would be to give him a pat on the back and send him on his way before it looks like he is headline hunting again, bathing in the kid's limelight when his own is down to dim.

The bottom line is that if Aaron Baddeley is to succeed he can afford only to be Aaron Baddeley.

First, Norman's situation was unique. He landed with a huge splash in one end of the golf pool while Jack Nicklaus was getting ready to climb out the other end and towel off.

Tom Watson was there for the interregnum but it was Norman who was expected to reign in line of succession to Palmer and Nicklaus. Of course it never happened, despite the two British Opens.

The illusion was finally shattered when a broken Norman fell into the arms of his robotic nemesis Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters.

In the end, Norman became incredibly rich and famous from the expectations that were heaped upon him and how he threatened to live up to them. But now he suffers the backlash of having failed.

For Baddeley there is no vacuum. The "next Nicklaus" is already in place. The most the world expects from him is to become a serious rival for Tiger Woods.

If Norman fitted the Shark image perfectly, Baddeley, with his cuddly boy-next-door looks, is more likely to be tagged "Kid Koala".

So he doesn't have to shoot his mouth off about anything. And he doesn't need to go out there and give his driver an almighty lash.

He can't match it with Woods off the tee, even if he is long enough to play any course.

So his future rests with smart golf more than adrenalin golf.

When he started hooking under pressure in the run home in the Australian Open it showed even that designer swing could falter.

But it is such a beautiful swing that he should be able to stay steady off the tee while he works on his irons, short game and putting. The "oohs" will come not on the tee but on the scoreboard.

So maybe, in the matter of emulation, he could have started with Peter Thomson, the thinking man's golfer, with five British Opens.

Thomson never wasted time and never tinkered like Norman did, bringing in new gurus when things didn't work out.

Thomson honed a simple swing. He stepped up, put the ball in play and set about solving the puzzle.

He built a game on relaxation -- and relaxation is the conqueror of pressure.

There is also a case for Baddeley emulating hard-scrabble David Graham, for maximising talent.

Graham looked stiff and awkward compared with Norman but he was a converted leftie with nobody expecting anything from him.

He too was a thinker.

When length off the tee was getting out of hand, and he looked like being blown away, he found ways to compete.

He won a US Open and a US PGA. And his final round at Merion in 1981 is regarded as one of the greatest in US Open history.

So, Aaron, just get out there and be Aaron.

 

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