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FULL NAME: Ian Baker-Finch
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IAN BAKER FINCH
Among his credits he has won tournaments on all four major tours, including the 1989 Colonial Invitational (USA), the 1988 ASO Open (Japan), the 1985 Scandanavian Open, and the 1993 Australian PGA.
But Baker-Finch's moment of glory came in 1991 when he won the British Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club. His final round 66 was one of the greatest ever in major championship golf and included an outward nine of 29 where he birdied 5 of his first 7 holes. His final 36 hole total (64-66) is the best ever by an Open Champion.
Sadly Baker-Finch's game deserted him in the years following his Open victory and he has since turned his hand successfully to golf course design, management and TV commentary for the ABC in the United States. His course design work includes the impressive Golf Club at Kennedy Bay regarded by some as Australia's most authentic links golf experience. He recently bought a share in The Greg Norman designed Glades golf course on the Gold Coast and will be managing the course with the help of Troon Golf.
Official Tour Victories
GOLF DIGEST ARTICLE ON IAN BAKER-FINCH
Ian Baker-Finch is on the telephone to a golf shop. "Baker-Finch," he is saying. "I wanted to ask if we could play Monday. Three of us. Sort of late morning. Eleven-fifteen? Oh, eleven-fifty. Fantastic. Right. Cheers, mate. Uh-huh. Yeah. Ian Baker-Finch." He does not add: "the British Open champion."
Everyone remembers the depth of it: the 32 consecutive cuts he missed, the 92 he shot at Troon that left him in a fetal position on the carpet of the Champions Room just six years after he was the champion, the little puff of wind two summers earlier at St. Andrews that came up just as he came down and popped his visor straight off his head like a champagne cork.
Ian Baker-Finch. Now, there was a slump, if you want to talk slumps.
Arnold Palmer was along when Baker-Finch hit that spectacular snap-hook dead left through the double fairway and out into the street. It was the first hole of Palmer's farewell to the Open Championship, or no one would have been there to see what happened to Baker-Finch. But then, of course, if no one had been there, maybe it wouldn't have happened.
He was only 34 years old and a winner on almost every continent, including North America (the 1989 Colonial). Far from a one-tournament wonder, Baker-Finch had led an earlier Open at St. Andrews for most of three rounds before bowing on Sunday to Seve Ballesteros. But, in reaching out for more distance in the early-'90s, Ian lost everything.
"If I didn't putt well, it was 80s for me every time," he says. "I was hooking the ball from fear, not from my swing. I was wearing myself out mentally on the course, physically on the range."
On the range now, you can see a lot of them reaching out for more distance, for obvious reasons. Among the saddest sights is Corey Pavin, who can still play wonderfully, but whose lack of distance leaves him a margin of error that is barely visible to the naked eye. The game, not just Tiger, has passed a few of them by.
Among the scariest sights is Justin Leonard, swinging his hammer like John Henry. Justin must be reacting to Woods. In the first blush of Wilt Chamberlain, when basketball talked of raising the hoop from 10 feet to 12, the guards were the ones with the lost expressions. As Augusta National and other syringe-wielding Frankensteins rush to pump up their courses into pituitary cases, Pavin and Leonard resemble a couple of backcourtmen gazing up at a rim.
Baker-Finch is well out of it at 40, 10 years after winning his major title. "I thought that I'd miss the competition," he says. "But it wasn't the competition. It was the company."
As an ABC-TV analyst, he still has that. And here's the sweet part: the man, of all men, who should hate golf, loves it more than ever. He plays every day, twice a day if he can. On the telecast, he and Steve Melnyk often refer to their round of that morning. Baker-Finch's joy in the playing comes through the screen as pungently as do some broadcasters' colognes.
"When I'm playing golf with friends now," he says, "I don't grind it out, but I try. I still work at things. There's always a bet, but I don't care about that. You rib each other and laugh, and half the time you forget to settle. I just love golf so much."
He was a teenage pro in Australia, a farmer's son. When Ian quit school for golf, his father didn't object. He knew dreams. The farmer died last summer, full of grace. The family back home and the one with Ian had suffered through the bogeys and survived. The Baker-Finches have come out the other end, intact.
"When we're in New York, say," Ian says, referring to ABC, "I tour the beautiful courses. 'Where's the new Jack Nicklaus course?' 'What's the name of that one Fazio just did?' I'm on a lot of panels and enjoy that. I try to soak up as much knowledge as I can about course design. I just call everybody I know and say, 'Hey, Bud, I'm coming in with the tournament. Let's play.' "
Who would have bet on a happy ending?
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