Baddeley's Expensive Education Pays Off With Masters Degree

TIMES ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

Like any responsible father, Ron Baddeley is picking up the tab for his son's education. Tuition will run about $72,500 for the three-year accelerated program. A little less than Princeton, a bit more than UCLA, but if his son's independent study in the next few months is successful, a bargain at any price.

Aaron Baddeley, the student, has been playing golf barely six years. He's a 19-year-old amateur with the confidence of a 30-year-old touring veteran, an up-and-comer from Down Under who has been turning heads ever since Jack Nicklaus sent him an unsolicited letter of encouragement when he was 14.

Baddeley is the first amateur to be given a special invitation to the Masters in 25 years. He won his club championship in Melbourne, Australia, at 14, barely a year after taking up the game, was second in the U.S. Junior Amateur in 1998, then last November became the youngest winner in the 95-year history of the Australian Open after outplaying Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie on the final day.

He's a quick study who believes in himself and has known since he lowered his handicap from 23 to 6 in his first year that golf was going to be his life. By the time the first round of the Masters begins Thursday, he will have played nine practice rounds here, with such players as Norman and Nick Faldo, prodding them for information all the way.

"My expectations for the week are if I can focus on one shot, one hole, one round at a time and then come Sunday be in contention. . . .

"And if I'm in contention, I want to win the golf tournament.

"I remember Tiger said the same thing."

Yes, he did, and Tiger Woods, whom Baddeley will play with Thursday, finished tied for 41st in his amateur debut. Realistically, a similar finish for Baddeley would be considered a successful start on what will probably be the final semester of his amateur career.

Ron Baddeley tacked $18,500 on his Visa bill in 1998 to fund his son's golf expenses, including the '98 junior amateur. The bill for last year was about $26,000 and this year's budget is $28,000. A former Indy car mechanic for Mario Andretti, Ron Baddeley moved from Lebanon, N.H., to Australia when Aaron was 2, watched as golf captured his son and has been a guiding companion on Aaron's travels. That will soon change.

"This is his college degree, his education" said Ron Baddeley, who, like Aaron's mother and two sisters, does not play golf. His two grandmothers introduced Aaron to the game.

"After he won the club championship, he said, 'Dad, whatever it is, I'm doing something with golf. This is going to be my life.'

"So we worked back from the U.S. tour and came up with a plan: 'OK, this is your career, your education.' "

Baddeley has played in two PGA Tour events this year, tying for 57th at the Honda Classic and missing the cut at Bay Hill. If things go well this week, his father is sending him out on his own for the first time, only Aaron and his 22-year-old caddie, Dion Kipping. He will play at New Orleans, the Memorial and the U.S. Open, where he received an unexpected exemption, then play in the Irish Open and try to qualify for the British Open. He's also awaiting invitations from Houston and the Byron Nelson.

Then he'll take a month or so off and eventually discuss with family and Coach Dale Lynch whether it's time to begin earning money to pay off the college loans.

"It will be difficult, as a father, to let him go [out on his own the next two months], but he has to learn how to budget his own time, arrange travel, all the things he takes for granted now. It's just part of his education."

They have all considered what has happened to other young amateurs making the decision to go pro: Woods at 20, Sergio Garcia at 19 . . . and Justin Rose at 17 after finishing tied for third in the 1998 British Open. Rose's game, of course, fell apart after he made the jump from amateur to professional.

"The decision might have been fine for the Rose family," Ron Baddeley said, "but we won't make a decision as a reaction like that. We'll follow our plan, sit down at the end of the year to see how he has done."

Baddeley, who says he wants to be the best golfer in the world, sought out Norman as a sounding board, and the two have become close.

"I like Aaron's belief in himself," Norman said. "I like his demeanor. I like the fact that he's very open with his questions. He wants to learn as much as he can about the game.

"But principally, I like the fact that he's very humble. He's always staying back behind the game of golf. . . . You should exude a lot of confidence and have that feeling of eternal ego, which we all need to be successful. . . .

"He's got all that, but being able to corral it and maintain it on such a very, very good level, that's what impresses me most about him."

Baddeley believes he can eventually make a similar impression as a professional.

"This is what I've dreamed of doing ever since I started playing at 12 or 13," he said. "I wanted to play at Augusta, play in the British Open, play in the PGA and have a chance to win these events.

"After a while, I sat down and said what do I have to do to reach these goals, and it's probably come along a little quicker than what we expected. . . . It takes some hard work to get to that level.

"I've dreamed about those so vividly, it's not that much out of reality that I'm here."

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The Masters

* When

Thursday-Sunday

* Course

Augusta National, Augusta, Ga.

* 1999 champion

Jose Maria Olazabal

* Television

Thursday, USA, 1-3:30 p.m.

Friday, USA, 1-3:30 p.m.

Saturday, CBS, 12:30-3 p.m.

Sunday, CBS, 1-4 p.m.

* TEE TIMES, PAGE 10

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