“Nearly half the field can qualify for an Open, that’s not on paper but it is damn near written in stone,” Fay said.
On Monday in central Ohio the sometimes pampered and privileged proved Fay’s point, playing 36 holes under warm skies for one of 15 spots next week at Pebble Beach. Eric Axley punched his ticket, shooting rounds of 64-63 to take medalist honors by a touchdown. Bo Van Pelt, perhaps the most consistent player on Tour this spring, will also make the trip, finishing tied for fourth.
Further punctuating Fay’s point was the play of Justin Rose, a first-time PGA Tour winning on Sunday up the road at Muirfield Village, who carded rounds of 68-72 and will miss the year’s second major. Rickie Fowler, who succumbed to Rose after holding the lead at the Memorial Tournament for the better part of 65 holes, also struggled on Monday (70-73) and will not play the Pebble Beach Open.
Between the fortunate and the fatigued, however, was the ultimate afterthought. Aaron Baddeley has been a Tour staple since 2003, a two-time winner in 2006 and ’07 and considered one of the best putters of his generation.
But somewhere along the way Baddeley lost his way, bolting his long-time swing coach for the stack-and-tilt method that came into fashion a few years ago. Last year just after the WGC-CA Championship the Australian ended the experiment and returned to Dale Lynch, who he had worked with since he was a 13 year old prodigy.
“I had some success with stack-and-tilt but I felt I was working hard and not getting the results I wanted,” Baddeley said early Monday at Brookside Golf & Country Club. “I wanted to get back to who I was before, more of a feel player. Seeing the shot.”
Baddeley’s progress has been steady, if not slower than he would have liked, but rounds of 69-67 on Monday left him tied for 10th place and bound for Pebble Beach.
The biggest improvement for Baddeley has been a dramatic jump in how far he hits the ball. Lynch said Baddeley’s technique began to fall into place during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am earlier this year so his statistics don’t paint a complete picture, but he has still jumped from 92nd on Tour last year with a 287-yard average to 13th this season (293 yards).
“I’m 30 to 40 yards further (with his driver),” said Baddeley, who missed the cut at the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach, “When I started hitting it longer it was laughable how far it was going.”
Since last spring when Baddeley reunited with Lynch he has three top-10 finishes, most recently tied for third at the Valero Texas Open, has improved in nearly every major statistical category and, according to Lynch, he’s only recently started trusting his swing in competition.
“Everything we looked at was long-term which was very brave. He was willing to forego shot-term stuff,” Lynch said. “Six weeks ago his technique was great, but the next step was the mental hurdle of trusting the new swing. He’s there now.”
He’s also in the U.S. Open, earning his spot the old-fashion way. Fay would like that.