Rafael Becker at the Rio Test Event.
Listen to Ian chat on SEN
Australian captain Ian Baker-Finch is extremely buoyant about the new Olympic golf course – and has hinted Adam Scott is keener than many think.
After a handful of aspiring Brazilians took to the newly laid course in beachside suburban Rio for its first full test this week, Baker-Finch said it had “come up nicely”.
And in encouraging news for Aussie fans, he said every time he spoke to the leading contenders to play for Australia as golf returns to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years, they were as eager as possible.
That included Adam Scott, who’s coming off back-to-back US PGA Tour victories, including the WGC Cadillac Championship in Miami last weekend.
The Queenslander, now ranked sixth in the world, will be an automatic selection if he remains in the top 15, but has maintained for the past two years that he will only play if his calendar and season goals and requirements align.
But Baker-Finch said both Scott and world No.3 Jason Day have the national spirit and are looking forward to August.
“Every time I see Jason Day, he says, `Finchy, I’m pumped, I’m pumped, I can’t wait’,” the 1991 Open champion told Melbourne’s SEN radio.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about Adam, the way he started off this year, but he says, `Finchy, I play in the green and gold every week, you know that’ … and he’ll be playing his butt of when the time comes.”
Baker-Finch, who also said Minjee Lee and Karrie Webb – the likely women’s team – were “champing at the bit” for their Olympic chance, said he’d only heard good reviews from the course’s first test event, attended by Australian Olympic Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller, who had downplayed earlier concerns over its condition.
“It was more about 18 months ago when they were unsure how it was going to grow in and finish up, but it’s all come up really nicely,” Baker-Finch said.
“But now … the course looks good, I’ve seen lots of photos and videos – the clubhouse is done (and) practice facilities look good.
“The course has grown in well. The last six months, that was their main concern – and it certainly looks pretty nice, right now.”
Baker-Finch said architect Gil Hanse had tried to incorporate some Alister MacKenzie-style bunkering into the new course which adds a “little Royal Melbourne” feel.
“The course will stand up. It’ll be new and the greens won’t be as good as we’re used to on the Sandbelt because of its age, but the course itself will be really good.
“It has a little links style, an open look to the course, some wetlands and lovely looking bunkering.”
Baker-Finch, who’s based in Florida for his TV commitments with CBS, said he’d make an interim visit to Rio, then arrive in Brazil on August 1 with the Games golf to start in the second week of competition.
He said fellow Queenslander Scott’s spectacular form was great reward after a couple of years of great change, including going back to the short putter after golf’s rules outlawed anchoring.
“He got married, had a baby, then he had this talk for a whole year about the long putter and Olympics – a whole mantra the whole year,” Baker-Finch said of Scott.
“So he bit the bullet, went to the short putter around (US) PGA last year, told us he felt comfortable with it here in Australia in November, and now he’s had to go to it and had a year to get over it, he’s starting to feel more comfortable, has a direction and it’s showing.
“He could easily have won three in a row – he nearly won at Riviera.
“He said he felt good with what he was doing and now the necessity of having to do it, it just got his mind around it at the end of last year and he’s jumped well (this year).
“He had to practise a lot with it, (but) you just have to knuckle down, practise and get comfortable.
“It’s all about trust. When you start trusting that change in your swing, you build on it and you have a couple of results and boy, he’s really turned the corner.”