Just under a month ago, Aaron Baddeley’s 12-year-old daughter Julie asked him if her dad would play in the WM Phoenix Open, which starts Feb. 9.
Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, the 41-year-old played in his hometown event for 18 consecutive years starting in 2003 and won the title in 2007. But he missed the last two matches of the People’s Open due to his limited status on the PGA Tour in recent years. – He plays outside the previous champion’s class. His daughter replied that it was not looking good for him again this year. Even if he would have finished in the top 10 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the week before, he probably won’t enter the 132-person field, which must be loaded even more now that the event has been upgraded to a rhombus and the status and purse have risen to $20 million.
Baddeley made it clear that he’ll likely need to secure one of three available spots on Monday’s qualifiers or get one of five untied sponsor invites. Julie was not happy with this response and decided that she would do her part to help his cause.
“I’ll write them a letter,” said Julie.
Badley did not blink.
He said, “Go for it, baby.”
Is it better than having your 12-year-old daughter take your case in writing to the WM Phoenix Open tournament director?
“It was so wonderful,” said the proud Baba Padelli. “I had nothing to do with him. I told him my reasons for inviting me.”
Baddeley couldn’t remember word for word what his daughter had written for him but said it went like this: He’s a local boy, ex-champion, works hard, almost won in Bermuda, still has plenty to play and is on edge from great play.
“I did it better than I ever could have done,” he said. “I hope to get in there.”
Chance Cosby, executive director of the WM Phoenix Open, received the letter and wrote back to Jolee, one of the six Baddeley children.
“First time I ever got a message from a kid to a player,” Cosby confirmed. “It’s a nice touch. I thought it was unique, and I think it was honest.”
It’s too early to say whether it will impact the championship to give Baddeley an exemption this year. Cosby noted that the decision is ultimately in the hands of the tournament’s president, Pat Williams of Thunderbirds, the charitable organization hosting the event this year. In 2019, when Cosby was president of the tournament, he gave Baddeley a sponsor invitation to participate in the tournament, so he was a charitable recipient of the tournament before.
Of the tournament’s five sponsors, the WM Phoenix Open has already announced two: Charley Hoffman, a long-time ambassador for WM sponsorship, and JB Holmes, a two-time WM Phoenix Open champion; Both Hoffman and Holmes needed a sponsor invitation to co-star for the first time.
Baddeley’s daughter’s letter highlights how valuable sponsor invitations can be, especially in the age of a select tournament. A purse of $20 million and $3.6 million for the winner can be life changing. He has raised #LetterWritingSzn. Some are handwritten, some are pdf attachments, and some are requests from agents on behalf of the player, Cosby said.
“We have 43 players who have written a letter. They are all great players and we have to say no to most of them and it’s not fun.” “We have eight players claiming a place in the world’s top 150 and four of the world’s top 100 players. Taylor Montgomery is 52Abbreviation II (After finishing eighth in the Top 15 and fourth in the Top 10 of the American Express PGA Tour season) and he won’t be in the field unless we give him a place.”
Longtime Travelers Championship director Nathan Grubb, who’s also bumped into the state of the particular tournament this season, can relate to just how difficult the decision has been.
“It’s one of the coolest and one of the hardest parts of the job,” he said of handing out sponsor invitations, noting that the sheer number of applications means he can’t accommodate everyone but will get back to anyone who writes in.
When he was told about Baddeley’s daughter and asked if he had a child write a letter, he laughed and said he didn’t. “That’s great,” Groppi said. “I totally pulled out the trump card. I don’t know how I can beat that.”
Baddeley failed to finish in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings all season for the third year in a row – ranking 196th. As a result, he can’t pick and choose his schedule, and last season earned only 13 regular season starts as a former champion. Baddeley got some early season starts by Monday in the playoffs, including in Fortinet’s season-opener, where he shot a 7-under to make a playoff and make the eagle into the second playoff hole to secure a spot on the court in Napa. He finished T-36 that week, T-6 at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship and turned the sponsor invite at the Sony Open in Hawaii into a season best for the T-5, which brought him to The Amex last week.
“It’s definitely tough,” Baddeley said of relying on the tournament’s goodwill and going through Monday’s playoffs. “It’s probably more difficult for my family than it is for me because it’s like, oh, you try to make plans and then either you get an invite or you’re in the top 10 or you qualify on Monday or you don’t qualify on Monday and you go home.”
When he enters the court, he says he treats the four-round tournament as if it were a Monday qualifier to get into the next event.
“Just four days of qualifiers, and there are 10 places instead of four,” he said.
At last year’s WM Phoenix Open, Sahith Theegala earned his fifth and final exemption from the tournament after being caught on the West Coast Swing, nearly winning the tournament, and finishing third. So a good result at the Farmers Insurance Open this week could go a long way to helping Baddeley’s case for one of three remaining exemptions still available. Julie counts on it.
“If we give him a story it will be a beautiful story, and if we don’t it will make us look like we don’t have a heart, but we do,” Cosby said.