After exploding onto the Australian scene in 1999 and 2000 with back-to-back Australian Open wins, PGA golfer Aaron Baddeley struggled to experience the same kind of success in the United States until finally breaking through at the 2006 Verizon Heritage. He has since added three more PGA titles to his name including the 2007 FBR Open, the 2011 Northern Trust Open, and the 2016 Barbasol Championship.
But in the difficult moments, when Baddeley actually considered putting away the clubs for good, it was always his strong belief that the sport was his calling that kept him plodding away on the links. In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Baddeley talks about his childhood attraction to the game, how he overcome early frustrations, his ironic nickname, and the importance of character and integrity:
Chad Bonham: What do you remember about being a young golf fan in Australia?
Aaron Baddeley: I knew everyone, especially the big names. I watched so much golf it was ridiculous. I could tell you every shot Nick Price hit in the last round when he won the PGA at Southern Hills (in Tulsa, Oklahoma). I could tell you the commentary. Ever since I started playing golf, I just loved watching it.
Bonham: Were you intimidated when you first started to play alongside some of your heroes?
Baddeley: I can’t say I was really that intimidated when I first came over because I had confidence in my ability to play the game. Phil Mickelson was a good friend to me early on. We used to practice together a lot in Scottsdale. I also played with Greg Norman when I was younger. I got to stay at his house in Florida, so that helped me get over being star struck. When I played in the Masters for the first time, I was paired up with Tiger (Woods) and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to go play. I wanted to show Tiger that I could play the game.
Bonham: I read once that you almost the gave up the game.
Baddeley: After I won my first Australian Open, about 10 months later I wanted to quit the game because I was playing terrible. I really got away from what I enjoyed doing and how much I loved playing the game. Then I got back to my goals and started focusing on what I wanted to achieve. Two months later I won the Australian Open again.
Bonham: Do you see yourself playing the golf for a long time?
Baddeley: For right now, I’ve been called to golf. That’s where the Lord’s got me. Until He tells me otherwise, that’s where I’m going to stay.
Bonham: How did you become a Christian?
Baddeley: I grew up going to church. My dad was an elder and my mom was a Sunday School teacher. I gave my life to Christ when I was 12 years old. I was at a youth outreach and a famous Australian Rules football was speaking. But after that, I really just went through the motions for a while. Then in 2002, I felt like God was calling me to give up dating. So for six months, I didn’t go out with any girls. I did it without even thinking. That was the point where God really got a hold of me. That’s where I really started to press in and seek Him.
Bonham: Your nickname is “Badds.” Isn’t that a little ironic considering the high moral standards you’ve set for yourself?
Baddeley: My friends called me that nickname growing up. It’s sort of catchy. But my life is all about following the Lord and doing what’s right.
Bonham: In what ways do you use your platform to minister to others?
Baddeley: I really enjoy speaking. Back in 2004, I was in Vegas and God really confronted me on the issue of gifts and callings. Through that, a message came about that I’ve been sharing. Everyone’s been given a gift, whether that’s being a speaker, whether that’s being able to take care of someone, whether that’s being able to read and write. Whatever the gift is, we’ve been given a calling to be a golfer or be a preacher or be a nurse. Take hold of that and use what’s God’s given you and don’t change until God’s told you otherwise. God’s put you there for a specific purpose. I felt like I wanted to get more into the ministry because I enjoyed speaking and sharing Christ. But that’s not where he wanted me. That’s why I’m constantly trying to make sure I’m in the right spot. You’ve got to be where God wants you to be. He’s given me a gift to play golf and I need to use that to the maximum. God’s not going to go hit practice balls for me. He’s not going to go hit the putts for me. I’ve got to do that but He’s going to be there to help me.
Bonham: How does your spiritual life impact your mental capacity and ultimately your ability to perform at a high level?
Baddeley: There are times that I get over a shot and I’m a little worried about the shot. Then I remember 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Sometimes I write scriptures on my glove as a reminder. Sometimes you can get to a certain shot and you’re a little wary about it and you can quote scripture and get a peace about it. I know that everything’s in His time. You’ve got the promises of the Word that all things work for the good. When things don’t go your way you can be like, “Alright, there’s something going on here. Lord, show me what you’re trying to teach me.” The promises in the Word are what give you so much peace. Nothing can separate us from His love. You could shoot 85-85 and you can go to the prayer closet and He’s going to be there. He’s still going to want to talk to you. He’s still going to want to hold you. In this day and age, performance is something that people struggle with and I struggle with it as well. I wouldn’t say I’m immune to it at all. There are times that you put a value on your performance.
Bonham: What is your philosophy on how to share your message with other golfers on tour?
Baddeley: Live what you preach. As a Christian, you’re always held under a microscope. You really have to be careful. You’ve got to live upright and holy. That’s the biggest witnessing tool. It’s just what James is saying. Faith without works is dead. You’ve got to live what your faith is. I definitely want to listen what’s going on inside, what the Holy Spirit is trying to say. Then I just tell them about Jesus. I often start out talking about church. The biggest thing is when you can tell them a testimony from your life. They can’t argue with it because it’s your testimony.
Bonham: Why do you think integrity still matters today?
Baddeley: We want to be able to trust people. We want to be able to believe the best in people. If we throw integrity out the door then we cannot trust people anymore. Integrity impacts every single area of my life. It impacts my relationship with Jesus. It impacts my relationship with my wife. Integrity is what keeps us close. I know I can trust her totally. She is a woman of integrity. And for my kids, living a life of integrity is all about setting an example so they can grow up seeing what a father and what a man is supposed to be. Integrity also impacts the way I handle my money—handling it appropriately and being truthful and honest with my taxes, my investments, and my tithes to God and the church. There isn’t one aspect of life that doesn’t involve integrity.
Bonham: Can you think of a time when your integrity was challenged on the golf course?
Baddeley: There have been a few times I’ve called a penalty on myself. I remember one year at Hartford, I was on the 14th green and as I was hitting my putt the ball moved. No one saw it, not even my caddie, but I did. I called an official over and he let me know I needed to add a stroke to the card.
Bonham: What biblical principle best reflects the way you try to approach your everyday life?
Baddeley: God has put on my heart His commandment to love my neighbor as myself and to treat others the way I wish they treat me. That’s been on the forefront of my mind and my heart. So each day I try to treat my wife, friends, co-workers, family, just like I would like them to treat me. I want to do what God calls me to do—to be honest, loving, faithful, and to live with integrity.
Aaron Baddeley is featured along with fellow PGA golfers Ben Crane, Stewart Cink, Jonathan Byrd, Kevin Streelman, Webb Simpson, and Bernhard Langer in the book Life in the Fairway.
(Photos: Jennifer Perez/PGA Tour; Keith Allison via CC)