A little less than a month ago, Aaron Baddeley’s 12-year-old daughter Jolee asked him if daddy would be playing in the WM Phoenix Open, which begins Feb. 9.
The 41-year-old resident of Scottsdale, Arizona, played in his hometown event for 18 consecutive years beginning in 2003 and won the title in 2007. But he has missed the last two playings of the “People’s Open” due to his limited status on the PGA Tour in recent years — he plays out of the past champion category. He answered his daughter that it wasn’t looking too good for him again this year. Even if he were to finish in the top 10 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the week before, he’d likely not get into the 132-man field, which should be even more loaded now that the event has been upgraded to designated status and the purse soared to $20 million.
Baddeley explained that he likely would need to secure one of three spots available at the Monday Qualifier or be granted one of five unrestricted sponsor invites. Jolee was none too happy with this response and decided she was going to do her part to help his cause.
“I’m going to write them a letter,” Jolee said.
Baddeley didn’t blink.
“Go for it, babe,” he said.
Does it get any better than having your 12-year-old daughter plead your case in writing to the WM Phoenix Open tournament director?
“It was pretty awesome,” proud papa Baddeley said. “I didn’t have anything to do with it. She told him the reasons why they should invite me.”
Baddeley couldn’t recall word for word what his daughter wrote on his behalf but said it went something like this: He’s a local boy, past champion, works hard, almost won in Bermuda, still has a lot of game and is on the edge of playing great.
“She did it better than I ever could’ve done,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get in there.”
Aaron Baddeley celebrates with a “club drop” after making a birdie putt on the 16th hole during first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Ariz. on January 31, 2019. (Arizona Republic photo)
Chance Cozby, the WM Phoenix Open’s executive director, received the letter and wrote back to Jolee, one of Baddeley’s six children.
“First time I’ve received a letter from a child of a player,” Cozby confirmed. “It’s a nice touch. I thought it was unique, thought it was heartfelt.”
It’s too soon to say whether it will sway the tournament to grant Baddeley an exemption this year. Cozby noted that the decision ultimately rests in the hands of the tournament chairman, who this year is Pat Williams of the Thunderbirds, the charitable organization that hosts the event. In 2019, when Cozby was tournament chairman, he did grant Baddeley a sponsor invite into the tournament, so he has been a beneficiary of the tournament’s philanthropy before.
Of the tournament’s five sponsor invites, the WM Phoenix Open has announced two already: Charley Hoffman, a longtime ambassador for tourney sponsor WM, and J.B. Holmes, a two-time WM Phoenix Open champion; both Hoffman and Holmes were in need of a sponsor invite into the tournament for the first time.
Baddeley’s daughter’s letter brings to light how precious sponsor invites have become, especially in the age of the designated tournament era. A $20 million purse and $3.6 million share for the winner can be life-changing. It has sparked #LetterWritingSzn. Cozby said some are handwritten, some are pdf attachments and some are requests from agents on behalf of the player.
“We have 43 players that have written a letter. They’re all great players and we have to say no to most of them and that’s not fun,” he said. “We have eight players requesting a spot who are top 150 in the world and four who are top 100 in the world. Taylor Montgomery is 52nd (after capturing his eighth top 15 and fourth top-10 finish of the PGA Tour season at the American Express) and isn’t going to be in the field unless we give him a spot.”
Nathan Grube, longtime tournament director for the Travelers Championship, which also got bumped up to designated tournament status this season, can relate to how difficult a decision it is to make.
“It is one of the coolest and one of the hardest parts of the job,” he said of doling out sponsor invites, noting that the sheer number of requests means he can’t accommodate everybody but he will get back to anyone who writes in.
When told about Baddeley’s daughter and asked if he’s ever had the child of a player write a letter, he chuckled and said he had not. “That’s great,” Grube said. “You totally pulled the trump card. I don’t know how I can beat that.”
Baddeley failed to finish in the top 125 of the season-long FedEx Cup standings for the third straight year – he ranked 196. As a result, he can’t pick and choose his schedule and last season only got 13 starts in the regular season as a past champion. Baddeley has earned some early-season starts by Monday Qualifying, including at the season-opening Fortinet Championship, where he shot 7-under to make a playoff and made eagle on the second playoff hole to secure a spot in the field at Napa. He finished T-36 that week, T-6 at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship and converted a sponsor invite at the Sony Open in Hawaii into a season-best T-5 finish, which got him into The Amex last week.
“It’s definitely hard,” Baddeley said of relying on the goodwill of tournaments and going the Monday Qualifying route. “It’s probably harder on my family I would say than it is on me because it’s like, oh, you try and make plans and then you either get an invite or you’re top 10 or you Monday qualify or you don’t Monday qualify and you get back home.”
When he does get in a field, he said he treats the four-round tournament as if it is a Monday qualifier to get into the next event.
“Just a four-day qualifier, and there’s 10 spots instead of four,” he said.
At last year’s WM Phoenix Open, Sahith Theegala received the fifth and final exemption into the tournament after getting hot on the Tour’s West Coast Swing, and nearly won the tournament, finishing third. So, a good result at the Farmers Insurance Open this week could go a long way to helping Baddeley’s cause for one of three remaining exemptions still available. Jolee is counting on it.
“If we give him one that will be a nice story and if we don’t it makes us look like we don’t have a heart, but we do,” Cozby said.