Champion Golf of the year in 1991 at Royal Birkdale, Ian Baker-Finch recounts his younger days as a 15-year old apprentice professional, leaving school to pursue his passion. Following in the immediate footsteps of Greg Norman, Wayne Grady and Peter Senior, Ian has fond memories of being the 54-hole leader in his first Open Championship in 1984, learning the Old Course under the watchful eyes of 5-time winner Peter Thomson, prior champion Kel Nagle and Graham Marsh.“ Ian Baker-Finch relives his early years as an amateur and professional golfer, “FORE the Good of the Game.”
Music playing 00:10
Mike Gonzalez 00:15
Welcome to another edition of "FORE the Good of the Game" and Bruce Devlin, we've got a guest today that's not only been the champion golfer of the year, but he may be the only guest we've had that's actually listened to our podcast.
Bruce Devlin 00:28
Well, he's, he's got quite a record to Open champion at Royal Birkdale in 1991, a sportscaster involved in golf course architecture, and we're very happy to have Ian Baker Finch with us, Ian, welcome, and thanks for joining us.
Ian Baker-Finch 00:53
Thanks very much, Bruce. And Mike. Thanks for having me. I've enjoyed listening to a few of the podcasts that you've done over the last couple of months. It's very entertaining, especially for us young 60-year-olds and older. I think we've appreciated having a few of the famous old champions talk to you, Lee Trevino, Lanny Watkins, you threw in a smattering of young guys like Nathaniel Crosby and Steve Elkington, and, and now myself, so yeah, good. Really good to be with you. Bruce, you've always been a good mate. I know you were a generation ahead of me playing but I followed your career with close interest. And I think you were one of the great players of Australia through the 70's and 80's. I think I only played a couple of tournament's that you were playing in. As I was starting out, and you were finishing up, but I do remember your great win in New Zealand, I think you were certainly in your 40's when you won there, I was playing in that tournament. And anyway, you had a great career mate. And you've been a wonderful role model for us Australians a bit younger than you.
Bruce Devlin 02:05
Well, thank you Ian, that's very nice for you to say that. And obviously, you know, I've had the great pleasure of watching, starting, I guess, with Greg Norman, and all the way through to the young guys today. I mean, we've put some pretty good players on the PGA Tour. And I think a lot of it has to do when we change to the Institute of Golf in Australia. And we got a lot of a lot of really good players come out of there. It's been it's been a great thrill to watch them all play.
Ian Baker-Finch 02:40
Yeah, there's been a lot, you know, we could just do an hour on this podcast on the transition of the greatest Australian players from, well, you know, we've even before Thomo, but Thomo with these five British Opens, and then all the way through to, you know, Bruce Crampton, David Graham, yourself. You mentioned Greg, you know, since then, you know, four or five other major winners Wayne Grady. Elky, of course, you know, Jeff Ogilvey, Jason Day, Adam Scott, you know, pretty amazing, really the guys that have won, and you know, a lot of them are from where I grew up, Bruce, a lot of them are from that Brisbane, southeast Queensland area and Nambour is where I was born on the Sunshine Coast. But that little region, you know, when you think about it, it's pretty amazing all of the major champions and great golfers that have come out of there.
Bruce Devlin 03:36
Well, the interesting part is you can play golf there 365 days of the year, so that may have a little bit to do with it. It's not like you're down in Melbourne or Adelaide where you know, where you're likely to get a few, maybe even a little spot of snow every now and again.
Ian Baker-Finch 03:53
Yeah, it's exactly right. You know, where I grew up, in Queensland, it's very similar to Florida. Warm climate grasses, hot and humid in the summer, beautiful winters. In fact, where I live now Bruce in the Jupiter Palm Beach Gardens area, it's 26.5 degrees north. And where I grew up in the Sunshine Coast, it's 26.5 degrees south. So very, very similar. Yeah.
Mike Gonzalez 04:22
We've had a chance to talk to a lot of the Australian greats, as you know, and I would hope our podcast ratings in Australia ought to be pretty good.
Ian Baker-Finch 04:31
Yeah, they should be. Definitely all of the guys that I passed it on to at the club. You know, guys my age or older. They've all thoroughly enjoyed them. And we're not trying to encourage the 20-year-olds to listen to ancient history as they would call it. I played with a young fella, one day recently, he's a tournament winner on the PGA Tour, actually half the PGA Tour lives here in Palm Beach Gardens. And he said you won something didn't you didn't know before you started doing TV? Oh, yeah. I said, Yeah, I won a few times. I won the Open. Yeah, yeah. I thought you won something. Yeah. So that was that was the first day I played with Daniel Berger. He's a super young bloke and really, really good player, a good player. And it was it was funny that he said it like that. But that's how it is the young guys. They remember the greats, but they grew up Tiger Woods was their idol. Absolutely. And before that probably doesn't matter to them too much.
Mike Gonzalez 05:30
Yeah, just thinking about some of the young kids on the tour today. Including the young man that just won this past weekend weren't even born when you won the Open Championship, were they?
Ian Baker-Finch 05:41
Bruce Devlin 05:43
30 years Finchy.
Ian Baker-Finch 05:44
30 years this year? Yeah. I know, amazing!
Mike Gonzalez 05:48
Half your life. You know, one of the reasons I think you've had so much time to listen to our podcast is all that driving you do back up here in the Low Country, we should have just put you up for the last three months would have made a lot easier. Maybe you and Jen could have just come and stayed with us for a while.
Ian Baker-Finch 06:02
Yeah, I know. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play your beautiful course at Secession. We I was up in the Low Country the last three days. I just drove back yesterday with Jenny. I went and played the May River Club up there at Palmetto Bluff. And that was a beautiful golf course Jack Nicklaus designed it about 16, 17 years ago. Lovely area. And I know Secession is another great course in the area I've played there many times. And probably another 10 or 12, really, really good quality courses within a 10-mile radius there as well as you know, Fazio's masterpiece of Congaree.
Mike Gonzalez 06:38
How'd you like Congaree?
Ian Baker-Finch 06:41
Yeah, I loved it. absolutely loved it. Bruce, you would have seen flashbacks to the old days, you know, the courses in Perth, the sand belt region in Melbourne. The beautiful, flowing wide, short grass fairways. It was really a really spectacular design and playability I thought.
Bruce Devlin 07:01
Yeah, unfortunately, I didn't get to watch much of it. I think I only watched the last 15 minutes. I didn't get to see much of it. But you know, there's been a lot of discussions about it that it's, you know, a terrific golf course. And I understand that it's pretty hard too.
Ian Baker-Finch 07:18
Yeah, from the back tees It was 7,600 yards and change. They didn't play it all the way back, but they played like they tried to do now they encourage the guys to go for some of the short par 4's. So, on certain days, they'll move the tees up 50 yards and other days back and, but the eighth hole was 540 yards par four. Yeah. And in our day, a 540 was a pretty stout par five.
Bruce Devlin 07:44
Yeah, but not anymore. That's a drive and an eight iron for these guys today.
Ian Baker-Finch 07:51
Yeah, well, for me, it's a drive and a three wood and the sand wedge. 540 still a three-shotter after me I can tell you that.
Mike Gonzalez 08:00
Ian, I don't know what the talk was when you got on campus there. But I was there on Thursday, got there Thursday morning and, I've played the course a few times. And as I walked across the first fairways coming from the parking lot. It was noticeable to me that they had softened up both the fairways and the greens, just to way the balls were reacting on Thursday. And that was before the rains came. I don't know what you heard behind the scenes in terms of how the PGA approached their setup. But that was my sense.
Ian Baker-Finch 08:28
I think they did get a little rain prior to the tournament because I know someone said they were there the week before and it was rock hard. I do know the tour. When you have to have five pin placements five days in a row. You can't have the greens rolling at 14 when the greens are designed like that. So, they don't specifically slow them down or water them more or whatever, they may only roll them once rather than roll them twice. They have to be very careful if wind is predicted the day that they're setting the flags, they have to be careful that way. So, they're very, very cautious that they have the courses as playable as possible. If those greens got 14 on the stimp meter and hard and fast, there would be a lot of pin placements that you couldn't use. So, it was prudent what they did. And fortunately, Saturday night it really got hard Saturday, it was really hard and fast. And the guys that played even in the morning on Saturday said to me, it was it was brutal. It was kind of like a sandbelt course you know it gets hard and fast. And then we got about a half an inch of rain on Saturday night, which made it a little more playable for the Sunday. But the greens are tricky. You know there there's a lot of pin placements there that are very, very hard to get within 20 feet. More three putts Thursday, Friday 126 three putts, sorry 226 three putts the first two days Which was more than any other course except for Winged Foot at the US Open the year before. So...
Mike Gonzalez 10:06
It was tough enough.
Ian Baker-Finch 10:08
Yeah, it was tough enough. Yeah, it certainly wasn't they didn't soften it do quite a lot of times, members at clubs will say aw they had to slow the greens down. We play the greens way faster than that, you know, but the guys at the club aren't holing all their four footers. You know, when you put a pencil on the card, and you're playing for your livelihood, and five hours is pretty much the norm these days on Thursdays and Fridays that you can't have it too silly or it becomes six hours and if the wind gets up, it becomes unplayable.
Mike Gonzalez 10:38
Well, we had a great young champion from South Africa also just a great stretch of golf for us here in the Low Country with the Heritage and Hilton Head in April, the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course just up the road in May and then finishing up with the Palmetto Championship, which came together pretty quickly didn't it as a replacement for the Canadian tournament?
Ian Baker-Finch 10:59
Yes, 90 days they had 90 days. it's amazing Bruce, what they did was really really amazing how, how quickly they put it together. Dan Friedkin, you know Bruce Davidson, John McNeely, everyone this I won’t go on but there's so many people that were 100% committed to that event being a success. Ty Votah from the PGA Tour, along with the Commissioner Jay Monahan. You know, they put a lot of effort into helping out and then the South Carolina government put a lot of money into that, to help promote golf in South Carolina and they did a wonderful job. And while it was happening on the weekend, the BMW Championship was happening over the Cliffs on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Mike Gonzalez 11:40
Up in Greer, South Carolina, and the uplands. Yeah. Well, he didn't let's just, let's just go back to the beginning for you. You talked a little bit about where you grew up, but just tell us a little bit about, growing up in that area, picking up the game, how you picked up the game, how your game developed and so forth.
Ian Baker-Finch 12:00
Well, right back to the beginning, I'm the youngest of six kids grew up on a farm. My dad was in the second World War from 39 to 45 escaped Singapore. On a 26-foot boat across the sea back into Darwin with a bunch of his buddies. They made it, luckily. Tough, tough guy smart guy finished his apprenticeship as an electrician. When he got out of the war. He was he worked in the Air Force on the firing mechanisms of the guns on the planes and he was an electrician, fully qualified electrician. Decided to move out of the city with three young kids in 1951 moved up to a little place called Peachester up on the range, a logging town, about an hour and a half out of Brisbane, the city in southeast Queensland Sunshine Coast area and bought a farm, worked in the sawmill from seven to four in the day and raised six kids and was also the electrician for the area. So, I had a good upbringing in that mum and dad were hard working and dad was obviously a very smart guy to be able to do what he did. But it was a meager existence as Bruce can attest back in those days, you know, just having a pair of shoes on your feet was a luxury. I was the youngest boy, but I had the biggest feet, so I always had tight shoes my whole life. trying to squeeze size thirteen's into size tens doesn't do your feet much good over the years, anyway. But that's just the way it was right? We had a farm and we had good food and we all grew big and strong. I'm the shortest boy at six foot four. I had a sister that 75 now she's six foot still six foot. She was a big girl back in those days. Anyway, great upbringing on the farm really, really cool. So, dad was the head of the RSL. He was the president of the Lions Club. He went to the forestry department and said look, we'd really like to build a golf course in our little region of Beerwah and they gave him 100 acres. Back then we still work in acres we're in hectares in Australia now. But we got 100 acres. And all of the farmers in the area built a golf course called Beerwah Golf Club. On the Sunshine Coast, beautiful little place. So, I was 7, 8, 9 years of age or drive down on the tractor with Dad from the farm you know six miles down the range from the top of the range down into Beerwah. And we built this golf course little nine-hole course push up greens it was all white clay. One of the farmers had many farms in the area that he managed, and he had a big scoop and a crane. So, he dug all the little ditches that ran through into the low area where we dug a little dam. And that was that was the start of my golf course design. Love Bruce back then
Bruce Devlin 15:10
That's starting early Ian.
Ian Baker-Finch 15:12
Starting early, but just simple, right? Just simple little T20 tractors and one scoop and a bunch of old guys running around, you know, planning paspalum into white clay. And the course was opened in 1970. Still nine years of age, I was born late 60. So yeah, I was nearly 10. I'd caddy for my dad, I got my first set of clubs when I was 12 started to play a little 3, 5, 7 iron a putter and a two-wood. That's what the set was. And I would work on the farms in the area, tobacco, pineapple, whatever, working each afternoon after school to make enough money to buy the extra clubs. So, by the time I was 13, I had a full set that matched actually had a driver and a three wood as well as the two wood. So, it was just simple. So, so different these days. I'm not trying to sound like I'm crying poor or anything. It's just that's the way it was. And no one else in the area my age played golf. I played tennis, cricket, soccer played football one year, but it was weight-for-age back then and I got my ass kicked because I was a big fat kid. So, I was playing against the 17-year-olds when I was 12. Anyway, but soccer was good. Cricket was great. I love cricket. Every Australian loves cricket. And tennis was another sport that we played at school level and traveled a little bit. But at 15 I decided I'd be straight into golf, only golf. And at the end of my junior year of high school, I decided I was going to leave school. Mom and Dad were probably happy to see me go because they knew all I wanted to be was a golf pro. So, I left home to go to Gimpy Golf Club which was a couple of hours north from where I live 120 miles away. And I was the assistant pro for a pro called Gary Wright and he taught me the game as best he could. I had a Jack Nicklaus golf book called "Golf My Way" that many guys my age in the 60's would have used as their golfing Bible. Three years later, I'd fully qualified Pro. So, at the age of 18. I was a fully qualified Pro; I could give lessons at the club. I decided to go travel and play tournaments. But my original idea going back to when I was 15 was, I would be a club Pro, I'd be a PGA pro and at a club, teach juniors I'd you know run the run the ball matches on weekends, you know, travel around, like the pros that would visit our little country course. Over the years, Dennis Brosnan and Tony Trims, Terry Adcock, there's a whole bunch of guys would come to our course along with two great Australians Paul King and Charlie Earp. And they would come once a month and give Junior clinics Bruce they were just fantastic. They'd come up for nothing, you know, they helped my dad with the design of the course, you know, up and down, up and down two par threes crossways you know, how do you get nine holes into 50 acres. But they were superb, true legends of the game and Australia PGA pros and that they instilled the love of the game into me. And once I could go for an hour just talking about those early years, to be honest with you, it was it was different. I'd take my clubs to school, I'd get ridiculed by having my clubs with me on the bus, we had an hour and a half bus ride from our little farm down to the school. And I won the schoolboy championships for the state when I was 12 or 13. Pete Senior was a year or so a year or two older than me. So, he was in the level above. So, he would always win the level above me. And then the next year when I was in his level, I wouldn't win he'd win it. And then the next year he'd be above, and I'd win the next one. He was always the best player Pete Senior, but so I won the Queensland schoolboy championships a couple of times. And then the Gary Player Classic was the big Junior tournament in Australia in in those days. And once again, Pete Senior, Wayne Grady, Ossie Moore, all of the guys that were older than me would win the open divisions and I'd win sort of the younger ones. The reason I decided to turn pro so young was all of those guys, Greg Norman included who's six years older than me. They were representing the state on all of the state teams, and I was so much younger I couldn't make it. So, I decided if I turn pro after my three-year apprenticeship, I'd be 18 they would have turned pro by now we'd all be out there, you know, playing pro golf together. So that was my plan. But I never expected to be, I wasn't dreaming of winning a British Open at that time, I was dreaming of playing, perhaps in a British Open. And being a club pro and being the best player I could be.
Bruce Devlin 20:10
It's interesting that if we look at golf in both Australia and the United States, I think Australia has a deeper number of players, percentage wise that love to play the game of golf than they actually do here in the United States.
Ian Baker-Finch 20:31
Yeah, yeah, it's once again, it's really changed a lot in the last 50 years, wherever you play golf. It's now quite a prolific, exciting, well promoted game. Back in the day, it was something that that wasn't necessarily it was available to everyone because it wasn't expensive to play, but it's not one of the things that everybody did. So, I think it's become more popular. But yes, the love of the game. For all Australians, I think if it's not the highest participation sport, I think maybe Junior soccer might be, but golf would be second in Australia for sure.
Mike Gonzalez 21:16
So, leading up to age 15, when you made that decision to apprentice and get on your journey to become a pro full Pro. What was your game like age 12 through 15? It must have been pretty good. You won the schoolboys championship, but how does your game develop? How did you really learn other than reading Nicklaus's book who was helping you or what kinds of things were you developing in your game during that time?
Ian Baker-Finch 21:38
I think it was just as Bruce mentioned, the love of the game the desire to go practice after school every afternoon I'd jump off the bus. And at dark Mom would come down from the farm, it was a 15 - 20-minute drive six miles down the range to pick me up. But I just wanted to be the best I could be. I watched a bit of TV there wasn't a lot available. Then. The Big Three were on golf. You know, the pro-celebrity matches maybe with Peter Allis in England, Lee Trevino used to play those. Books that I'd get passed down that the dad would pass on to me or other members of the club and the occasional Junior clinics that Paul King, Terry Adcock, a few of the guys I mentioned earlier, would come up to the club and give clinics and give us the basics. But then it was just up to me, and I think I kept a record of all my scores. I've still got the little red book of all of the scores hole-by-hole from the 70's. And I first broke par I hadn't shot 72 yet. I was 13. And I was choking like a dog, and I didn't birdie the 17th hole, which is a par five I should birdie, and I knew I needed a par at the last to shoot par. And I hit a really great shot and it rolled over the back of the green long par for the last hole at Beerwah back then a long par four was 400 yards. And I thought Oh, come on, just get it up and down and I chipped it in. So, the first time I broke par, I was I just turned 13 I believe I was shot 71. And that was a big moment for me. That's when I really started to realize that hey, I can play this game and that's about when I won the Queensland school boys, but I was probably about a five handicap. In those days, the standard scratch wasn't par It was my course was a short course no bunkers. By the time I was 14, I was shooting 70, 69, 70 every time I played, and it was a four handicap. So, when I decided to be a pro, I was two or three handicap. I wasn't like a plus or anything. I wasn't spectacular. But I had learned to shoot in the 60's around my course and I had won a few things and I won the Junior Gary Player junior thing by 20 shots. So, I was the best at my age put it that way. I'm not the best player, Greg Norman and Wayne Grady and Pete Senior were better than me, but they were older, and I aspired to be them. And as I was doing my apprenticeship, Greg Norman started to win he was 21 when I was 15. And he won a tournament in Australia called the Westlakes Classic as a 21-year-old and that really inspired a lot of the kids my age to be Greg Norman, you know, he was that he was that new young star that sort of had taken the reins from Bruce and Bruce Crampton and then David Graham and then Bob Shearer was a little bit older. Jack Newton was a little bit older Stuart Ginn they were probably 10 or 12 years older than me so they were the behind Bruce they would that was the level of player. Then came Greg and then was Wayne Grady, Ossie Moore, Pete Senior, and down that way. So, there was a progression and a whole bunch of great young Aussies. Sorry, I'm talking so much about this. But it's good memories. Any of the Aussie listeners will really appreciate the history lesson.
Mike Gonzalez 25:14
So, take us through the decision process that you went through Ian, and you thought about playing this for a living going out and making money at it.
Ian Baker-Finch 25:26
Oh, well, when I first turned pro mum and dad, although they were happy to see me go because they knew that's all I wanted to do. They said, look, if it doesn't work out, you're so young, you're only just turned 15 you can come back and finish school. So, I finished my school they did during the apprenticeship we did, like night school courses to do it. And we had to learn how to make clubs and repair clubs. It was quite a not stringent by any stretch of the imagination, but it was hard work 60-hour weeks in the shop. If you practiced you practiced before work and after work, I would travel down to Brisbane on a bus Monday mornings or get on a bus at four in the morning it was a three hour bus ride down to play 36 old trainee matches, make a little bit of money on the side, the better players won those, and you might make an extra 20 bucks for the week that the bus ticket for a three hour bus ride was about $4 return back in those days. And just when I look back on the things that we did that we just took for granted that you know, Dad said if you want to get ahead, you got to work your ass off. So, we worked our ass off to get ahead, that was just the way it was. So, and then when I finished the apprenticeship, I worked on the farm, I'd get a few $100 together, I'd go play, come back and work on the farms again, make some more money. Go play so I was keeping fit and strong by working on the farms, you know, throwing tobacco bales around and picking pineapples and doing various things sort of kept me fit and strong and then made some money so I could go away and play again. And that 18 to 22 was those four years, the college years for American players were mini-tours and pro-ams for me and all of the top players in Australia would just drive around playing pro-ams around the country. great camaraderie like college days, lots of beer, lots of good times. And a $100 check you bought dinner for your mates that night if you if you won $100 or more check if you won a $250 first price check in a pro-am you know it was your shout. It was just good fun
Mike Gonzalez 27:38
Was the progression for PGA professionals in Australia, similar back in your era? Bruce, in terms of the steps you had to go through and...
Bruce Devlin 27:47
Well, obviously, you know, I didn't I didn't go through the apprenticeship side that Ian did. I think for those who listened to our early podcast, you know, I had no intention whatsoever of turning pro after winning the Australian Open as an amateur I, you know, I was back to being a plumber, going to night school and all the rest of it. And then I got talked into turning pro by Norman Von Nida. And so, I mean, it was a, it was a rather abrupt decision really, because I had I had no real intention of turning pro. So, it's amazing how the different tracks are, you know, Ian and the way he grew up and what he was doing, you know, I left school early too, which is something that we both had. And when I went home from school, my dad said, okay, if you're not going to go to school, put your overalls on, get out and like Ian said, work your ass off. And that's what we did.
Ian Baker-Finch 28:58
What you did to be a plumber, an apprenticeship to be a plumber or a carpenter or any of those trades people which is a sought-after job in Australia. I mean, being a tradie is, is one of the great jobs. I know a lot of my mates are back home. Being a golf pro was the same system. It was the same you were indentured to the pro for a three-year period, and you did your apprenticeship and you had to adhere to the government rules and regulations. And so, the main reason I did it Bruce is I wasn't as good anywhere near as good as you were representing Australia winning the Australian Open you were, a champion player. Like say, Greg Norman, you were winning tournaments at 20, 21 years of age. I decided that I wasn't going to be able to make it for a long while into those representative teams. So that's why I decided to turn pro early, so I'd be a pro with them. You know when I got to that age, so I didn't do any amateur golf. I was just really doing a bit of junior golf before I turned. But it's, it's different now. You know guys go to college. I'd suggest any of the young Australians to come over and go to college here. It's such a great system and fantastic competition.
Bruce Devlin 30:16
Absolutely fabulous for them, you know, and a lot of the players have, they're doing more and more of it coming to the United States to go to college. And I think I think the coaches at the various colleges around the country are interested in getting young Australian players over here as well.
Ian Baker-Finch 30:35
Definitely, young Australians, young Europeans, a lot of Asians, we see a lot of a lot of Koreans, young Japanese players now as well. Yeah, it's a good mix, I think to getting internationals must tick the diversity box for a lot of the universities, which helps them with their funding. It's not cheap going to college. You know, you sent kids to school here I did. When I told my family back home what I was spending to send my girls to school. It was costing more to send my girls to school each year than any of my family were earning in a year. There you go. And they were like, are you kidding me? And I said, that's the system. They're the schools they wanted, they both Haley went to SMU in Dallas, lovely school, loved it. And Laura is on the other side of the coin. She went to NYU, New York. And I think if you look up NYU in the Friske book of schools, it's the number one expensive school and yeah, but both great schools, different curriculums, I'm sure. But I was very fortunate to have done well in life to be able to afford to do that, because they got a great education and they're two lovely young girls now 30 and 32. And you had the same with, with yours too Bruce, I know you and Gloria, you've lived here now how long you've been over here, more than 50 years, I guess.
Bruce Devlin 32:06
I talked Gloria to coming over for two years, so I didn't have to travel so much. We rented our home in Canberra to the American Embassy and that was 1968 we've been here ever since. So, you're exactly right. It'll be 53 years.
Ian Baker-Finch 32:23
Yeah, amazing, isn't it? And Texas is very much like Australia, just quickly. Australians and Texans are very, very similar. Big, big blue skies. Kind of a conservative family environment and thought process. Blue, Blue Sky thoughts, you know, as far as you know, getting ahead and yeah, and its great affinity between the Texans and Australians.
Bruce Devlin 32:52
I think they're closer to, you know Australians and Texans are closer to one another than Australians, anywhere else. You can go to California, Massachusetts, even Florida for that matter. Although a lot of Australians and up there that come over here in Florida because of the weather.
Ian Baker-Finch 33:11
The weather and the water, the ocean. Yeah.
Mike Gonzalez 33:13You started on the European tour when about 1984 or so?
Ian Baker-Finch 33:18
Yes. I won the New Zealand Open at the end of 83. I had finished second in the Australian Open. In 83. Bruce, I think you played the Australian Open at Kingston Heath that year.
Bruce Devlin 33:33
I certainly did. That was my very last one.
Ian Baker-Finch 33:38
That's what I thought you played there. And then you came over to New Zealand and you won the week after I won. I won the New Zealand Open and I think you won the Airline's...
Bruce Devlin 33:48
Shell something or other?
Ian Baker-Finch 33:50
Yeah, Shell... yeah exactly. So that was end of 83. And I got I was top five on the Australian money list. might have been second but I was top five used to get an exemption into the British Open. So, my management firm then Glen Wheatley and Steve Fraser. They also managed Mike Clayton and Wayne Grady. We were the first really young Australians to ever have a manager they came to us and said we think we can really help you guys, and this is 1982, 83 and they got me some exemptions because I was in the British Open already. They got me exemptions into other European tour tournament's and in the end, I got 13 in a row. So, I played just to give you an idea, I used to play 40 tournaments a year all around the world. I played in Australia up until March and then we'd go and play some in Asia. Then I came back, and I played the West Australian Open which I won another tournament there I lost in a playoff to Ossie Moore I then went to the US the next week I played two tournaments in the US Congressional. I was invited in the Charlie Pride Classic; I then flew from there to Paris. I'd missed the cut in the Congressional tournament. So, I had a couple of days off in Paris. And then I started playing 13 in a row. So, I'd played about 12 in a row between Australia, Asia, Australia, U.S., Paris already, no weeks off. And then I played 13 in a row in Europe. And then went back home and played the Australian tour. We always I used to always play about 15, 17 tournaments in Australia in the 80's as well as Europe and then eventually I started playing in Japan as I got better. But that 84 was my first open. And I could go on at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Yeah, so that was that was a just a great memory and really the start of my belief in myself that I can play the game and it was okay to win in Australia and win a few state opens...
Mike Gonzalez 36:04
T-9 in your first, that's pretty good!
Ian Baker-Finch 36:07
Yeah, I led for three days. Unbelievable that Thomo came down on the Saturday morning as I was teeing off and he said, you can't win it on a Saturday, but you can lose it. And I shot 71 and retained the lead and played poorly the next day and finished ninth played. Just was too nervous early, I guess didn't feel nervous, but I guess I was, but it was that was really what started me thinking that I could play the game internationally.
Bruce Devlin 36:41
Lead the open for three days, man. That's a that's quite a feat.
Ian Baker-Finch 36:48
Yeah, first time playing there. Bruce, I had a wonderful pre-tournament. Four days I had Thomo, Kel Nagle, and Graham Marsh and myself, played four days in a row practice rounds Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. And Thomo arranged for Tip Anderson, who was Arnold Palmer's famous caddy Arnold wasn't arriving until Tuesday. So, I had Tip Anderson on Sunday and Monday showing me around, so I had Swampy who won 60 times and won over here as well, as you know, so well. And Kel Nagle, the winner of the 1960 Open at St. Andrews and Thomo a five-time winner of the Open showing me around St. Andrews.
Bruce Devlin 37:33
If they didn't know they were around. Nobody did.
Ian Baker-Finch 37:37
Yeah, it was pretty incredible. Really, really. One of my fondest memories, I've still got some, some photos of Thomo showing me around from that period
Mike Gonzalez 37:45
Had to put you in a great frame of mind. Just spending that time with those guys getting to know that golf course your first Open Championship. I can't imagine that would have done nothing but just great things for your confidence and comfort in your first one.
Ian Baker-Finch 38:03
Yeah, it was different than too. The kids coming out of college now, they're ready to go there. They don't need guidance from us old guys. When we played, we wanted guidance, because that's how we learned, you know, we found our secret in the dirt. And we hit 1000's of balls. And we traveled the world trying to scrap a few dollars together to keep us going to the next week. And to have those great players show enough interest in me to guide me around was very, very special. And yes, it gave me confidence but the confidence that I can go play and play my best. No, I never once thought that I could win it, or I'd even be leading or shooting a great score. When that week we stayed. Mike Clayton Wayne Grady, myself, my girlfriend at the time Jenny, who's now my wife, our manager Steve and Steve Williams who used to caddy for Tiger Woods for all those years. Staying in the one house, one bathroom. Six of us with my girlfriend in the one house. I mean, that's how we did it. We had one car; we would eat bar meals at night at the local pub. That's just how we traveled.
Mike Gonzalez 39:12
So, you played the European tour pretty regularly four or five years or so before you really, I guess came on the American scene in terms of playing the tour regularly in the U.S. I know you played on the tour before you started playing regularly. You started playing on the tour 84, 85 you started playing some events, did you?
Ian Baker-Finch 39:34
Yeah, I played that one in Congressional on the way because my management company was based in Washington DC, and they got me the start based on how I'd been playing in Australia. So, I played that one. And then in 85, I was invited to the Masters as a young player I played in the Masters for my first time and I played four or five other tournaments I played Greensboro before Hilton Head after it. Then in the middle of the year, I was invited to Colonial, and I played Byron Nelson, Colonial Memorial. And, and then in, I might have played one other somewhere. But I realized that I needed to work on my game, if I was going to come and play the U.S. tour, so I stayed in Europe 86, 87. And in 88, I really started to play well, I won a few tournaments, came over to play in the World Series, and led the World Series for 71, holes, and bogeyed 17 and 18, that last day to lose by a shot. And that got me enough points to get into that 150, where I could come the next year with an unlimited amount of invitations. So, I played three tournaments. Lost by shot at the World Series finished ninth and 12th, in two others that surrounded that one, and won 100 grand or whatever, which got me into that category. Haley, my oldest daughter, Haley was born seventh of February 89. And I said to Jenny, we may as well move to the US, we can travel as a family there, we can't travel really, as a family in the UK or Europe. So that's what prompted me to leave Japan and Europe, and come and play in the US, beginning of 89. But in those days, just briefly on this, that the money level was nowhere near what it is now. It's 10 times now what it was 30 years ago. And I could make more money playing Australia, Europe, and Japan than they were making, you know, I was making as much money, which was really what it was about in those days had to make a living, right. So, I could make more money doing what I was doing then I could, in fact, I won a tournament in 89 in the US and finished 50th on the money list. And won about a third as much as I'd won the two years before planning in Europe and Japan. So, I didn't come to the US necessarily for the big money back in those days, it was more that I knew it was a natural progression. You could travel as a family, which we wanted to do. And if you were going to be a champion golfer you had to win in America. And that's still the case, you're not considered one of the elite unless you're winning on the US tour. So that's what I wanted to do. And that was just the natural progression. I'd already had a plan set out. I was going to visit David Leadbetter I was going to improve my swing; I was going to improve my game. I had the whole book of goals already, you know, addressed and that's that was the plan.
Mike Gonzalez 42:32
Thank you for listening to another episode of "FORE the Good of the Game." And please, wherever you listen to your podcast on Apple and Spotify, if you like what you hear, please subscribe, spread the word, and tell your friends. Until we tee it up again, FORE the Good of the Game, so long everybody.
Music playing 42:57
Professional Golfer, Broadcaster
Ian Baker-Finch, winner of 17 tournaments worldwide, including the 1991 Open Championship, has been a member of the CBS Sports golf team as an analyst for the Network’s golf coverage since 2007.
Baker-Finch began his professional golfing career on the Australian Tour in 1979, and after more than a decade of successful competition around the world, he won the 1991 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. From 1983- 93, Baker-Finch won 17 titles worldwide including tournaments on all four major Tours. He represented Australia in the 1985 World Cup, four World Tours Championships from 1985-91 and the Dunhill Cup in 1989 and 1992. Baker-Finch also served as Peter Thomson’s Vice Captain for the International Presidents Cup Team in 1996, as well as Gary Players’ Assistant Captain for the 2003, 2005 and 2007 International Presidents Cup Team.
Appointed by the Australian Olympic Committee, Baker-Finch served as Team Leader (Captain) of the Australian men’s and women’s golf teams that competed in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He will assume the same role this July at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
Prior to CBS, Baker-Finch worked for more than a decade as a golf analyst for all the major tours throughout the world on Australian television, as well as ABC and ESPN. He also worked for TNT as an analyst for its golf coverage. He began competing on the Champions Tour in 2011, shortly after his 50th birthday. Baker-Finch travels extensively, fulfilling his passion to play the world’s top-rated golf courses while honing his skills as a golf course designer. Baker-Finch Design has been involved in golf course design for the last two decades, and lists the “Desert Course” at Arabian Ranches, Dubai as his favorite golf design work-to-date.
In 2000, Baker-Finch was recognized by the Australian Government as a recipient of the Australian Sports Medal, which honors individuals for high level of achievement in sports. He is a life member of both the Australian PGA and Australian PGA Tour.
Baker-Finch was born October 24, 1960 in Nambour, Queensland, Australia. Since 2000, he has lived in the Palm Beach Gardens area with his wife, Jennie. He has two daughters, Hayley and Laura.