SETX professional Braden Bailey discovers new way to make golf fun

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, February 1, 2023

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Braden Bailey, playing on a sponsor exemption, eagled his second hole, shot an opening round 67 that left him tied for seventh and finished T51 in the 2019 Houston Open.

Not only was it an eye-opening performance for a 22-year-old in his first PGA Tour start, it may well have distorted reality.

Bailey, coming off a stellar collegiate career at Baylor, looked ready to skip all the trials and tribulations of making it at golf’s top level. In that Houston event, he’d beaten the Port Neches-Groves exes – Chris Stroud and Andrew Landry – who preceded him on the tour. He looked at ease and comfortable and played like he belonged.

Since then, golf and life have drastically conspired to alter the story line. COVID dried up playing opportunities for young guys trying to climb the ladder, Bailey missed cuts on mini tours and took it hard after coming up a shot short in the first stage of Korn Ferry Q school.

Golf, as many of the game’s very best players learned the hard way, can be a cruel game.

Bailey’s confidence faded. The perfectionist in him began second guessing shots and decisions. He overanalyzed. The game quit being fun. Motivation faded.

The good news to this seemingly sad saga is that a unique hookup with longtime time friend/foe Chandler Phillips seems to be creating a new dynamic. Time will tell how it plays out.

Phillips and Bailey have battled, dating back when they first began competing as juniors at age 8.

Phillips, a star at Huntsville, and Bailey wearing PNG purple, staged memorable battles in regional and state tournaments. Their rivalry continued with Phillips excelling at Texas A&M and Bailey becoming a top ten machine at Baylor.

Both now live, play and practice together in College Station. Phillips’ career is on a serious uptick. He finished second on the All Pro Tour last year and was fourth in Korn Ferry Q school.

He’s come out smoking on the KFT Tour – winning its first event and placing T12 in the second.

Phillips’ caddie for those two tournaments, both played in the Bahamas, was none other than Braden Bailey. It remains to be seen who benefitted more – Chandler or Braden.

“We were practicing one day and I asked him who was going to caddie for him on the Korn Ferry,” Bailey said. “He said he wasn’t sure but he’d probably just get a local caddie for the first four tournaments outside the United States, then try to hire somebody full time in March.”

Braden shocked his buddy by saying he’d like to caddie for him in the two tournaments in the Bahamas, this week’s stop in Panama and the next week in Colombia. Phillips couldn’t take him up on the offer fast enough, offering his friend 10 percent of winnings and some expenses.

Phillips shot rounds of 69-68-69-68 for a 274 that won by two shots and earned a $180,000 check in the Bahamas Great Exhuma Classic. He was six strokes off the winning pace with a 279 in the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic and pocketed another $19,300.

As for Bailey, who had actually caddied for Phillips once before in last year’s Korn Ferry tournament in Dallas, it was profitable and fun. More importantly, it may have unlocked an important door to a less stressful approach to his own game.

“It was almost like I was caddying for myself,” he said. “Our games are similar and so is the way we see the course and play. We worked really well together. I didn’t give any input unless he asked for it and that happened more and more as we went along.

“He played some of the most stress-free golf I’ve ever seen the week he won on a course that was stressful because of how tight it was. Watching him was kind of like a mental reset for me. I just couldn’t have found a better guy to caddie for.

“The way he approaches the game. The way he makes it look so easy. The way he simplifies the game so much. It was refreshing to be with somebody who reminded me that golf is not as complicated as I have been making it. It’s just a matter of see shot, hit shot.”

So where does it all go from here? Hopefully, to Braden re-discovering how much fun golf can be, re-inventing himself, then re-establishing as that guy we all got carried away with in the 2019 Houston Open.

His plan for now is to play the All-Pro Tour full time, caddie for Phillips when and where it doesn’t interfere, try to Monday qualify on occasion and make another run at Korn Ferry Q school.

“I know I have the talent,” he says. “I really believe what I needed most was a mental reset and this could be it. It was so cool for me to watch and pick up things Chandler was doing that I have struggled to do in the last couple of years. I honestly believe being his caddie is going to help me get back to being the player I know I can be.”

Meanwhile, keep an eye on Chandler Phillips. He could well be the next big thing to come off the Korn Ferry Tour. And, who knows, Braden Bailey may not be all that far behind.

— Written by Bob West