Another Australian leads a major championship going into the final round; another gross of alarm clocks are set around the country; another multitude of hopes are dashed. For fans of Australian golf, it’s becoming something of a familiar, and depressing, storyline.

Aaron Baddeley’s tilt at the US Open this morning went the same way as so many of Greg Norman’s glorious failures in America – as well as Stuart Appleby’s fizzled shot at the US Masters in April – ground into the turf by the weight of his own expectations, and those of an over-expectant nation.

The ultimate challenge lay ahead of Baddeley – playing perhaps the toughest US Open layout ever devised and drawn alongside Tiger Woods in the final pairing – and this was going to be the day he proved himself as something more than a teenage amateur prodigy. He was going to stare down Tiger and announce his arrival as a serious contender for Woods’ throne, as he has always said he would do since the day he won the Australian Open as an 18-year-old amateur in 1999.

But his hopes were badly wounded by a triple-bogey seven at the opening hole, then pretty much killed off by a double bogey at the seventh. That led to a continuous leaking of shots until he eventually signed off for a 10-over-par 80, one of only six scores in the 80s for the day. His putting, for so long the standout feature of his game, deserted him in the pressure of the moment and he missed maybe a dozen putts of five metres or less. Having led by two strokes at the start of the day, the Melburnian finished seven shots behind the winner, Argentine Angel Cabrera, and six adrift of Woods.

For all his undoubted talents, and his stirring display over the first three days at Oakmont, Baddeley is someone who has not been fully and unequivocally embraced by the Australian sporting public. There is something in his strutting manner which jars, something slightly gauche about his big-talking pronouncements.

His supporters say he’s always been full of an inner confidence. His detractors just say he’s full of himself. After all, who else would launch his own website – Badds.com – when he’d won nothing of note outside Australia?

Who else would set up and host an Aaron Baddeley World Junior Championship when he was barely 20 and still to make his mark on the world game? Who else would hire a room in Melbourne’s Exhibition Centre and drive a motorized buggy through a haze of dry ice to announce he was about to join the professional ranks? No wonder the MC for the occasion, Bruce McAvaney, looked a trifle embarrassed at the very unseemly carry-on.

Then there is his religion. Baddeley marked his first Australian Open win by accepting the Stonehaven Cup at Royal Sydney with the words: “I’d like to thank my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’” He is a devout Christian who reads the Bible every day and prays. And he told reporters after the third round at Oakmont he would draw strength from one of his favourite passages in the good book.

“I always use one verse,” he said.

“It’s the 2 Timothy 1:7, it says, ‘For God has given us a spirit of fear but power of love and a sound mind”. I constantly quote that verse to myself.”

Baddeley was also greenside at Augusta when American Zach Johnson – his “brother in Christ’” – won the US Masters in April.

There is obviously nothing wrong with having a strong faith, in fact it makes for a pleasant change in a world of pro sport dominated by money, winning at any cost and, increasingly, drugs. The truth is Baddeley is a very personable young man, and someone who is gracious and well-mannered – qualities you don’t associate with a lot of Australian sportsmen.

Yet, for all that, he can’t quite shake the tag of being cocky and brazen. And Australians feel uneasy about sportsmen quoting scripture and having Bibles bashed in their face. Never was that better illustrated four years ago when the half-time entertainment at the AFL grand final involved Baddeley, with a handful of other professionals, having a chipping competition in the middle of the MCG. The reception he got from the crowd when his name was announced was tepid, at best. Several boos could be heard above the din.

So Baddeley will leave Pennsylvania for his US base in Arizona today happy that his game, for 54 holes, held up under the fiercest pressure. Yet, in terms of his stated ambition of taking over Woods’ mantle as No.1, he only barely made a dint in the American’s aura.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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