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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.