Australia's newest hero faces ultimate test

Teenager Aaron Baddeley is dreaming of major glory just five years after playing off a handicap of 23
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The Independent Online

A little over five years ago Aaron Baddeley had a handicap of 23. Today he tees up alongside the world No 1 Tiger Woods and Stewart Cink in the 64th Masters.

Baddeley's high handicap had nothing to do with lack of talent. He was too busy playing cricket at home in Melbourne. His ambition was to play Tests for Australia. It was a grandmother and an aunt who got him interested in golf. He was down to a handicap of six after a year and currently rates plus-four.

Last November, at the age of 18, Baddeley became the youngest ever winner of the Australian Open. He beat a field that included Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie. On 23 December he received a call from Augusta National saying he had been awarded an invitation to the Masters. "It was like the best Christmas present ever," Baddeley said.

Although the tournament was founded by Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur ever, they rarely invite those not otherwise qualified, such as the British Amateur champion Graeme Storm. Baddeley also has an exemption for the US Open, but the Royal and Ancient have decreed he will have to qualify for the Open unless he becomes exempt.

Winning here would do. He does not dismiss the idea, although only three previous champions were first-timers. "I don't see any point playing in a tournament if you don't think you can win," he said.

Baddeley has worn out all the Masters highlight tapes he could find. "I love the Masters. This is what I have dreamed of doing. It has come quicker than I thought - I have worked on my game like any top player. I have dreamed about this so vividly, it's not that much out of reality that I'm here. The British Open and the US Open are great, but there's a certain class of golfers who wear the green jacket."

Baddeley has stayed with Greg Norman, had dinner with Butch Harmon, Woods' coach, and played practice rounds with Nick Faldo, Norman and Jack Nicklaus. "When I was his age I was still on a surfboard," Norman said. "I like Aaron's belief in himself and that he wants to ask so many questions."

Woods said: "I could not hit shots as good as he does at 19."

Baddeley is not the youngest amateur in the field. That is Sung Yoon Kim, a 17-year-old Korean who was the runner-up to David Gossett at the US Amateur. Storm, a member of the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup-winning team, will create Masters history by having his mother, Jane, as his caddie.

The arrangement started when Jane drove her son to tournaments and she carried his bag while he won the Amateur at Royal County Down and at the Walker Cup. She had to have six inches cut off the sleeves and legs of the traditional Augusta caddie's overall. "I am very nervous," she said. "I keep Graeme's spirits up."