14 Jul 2021 | Feature stories |

#TheOpen Flashback: Baker-Finch in the zone at Birkdale

by Dane Heverin

Ian Baker-Finch holding the Claret Jug in 1991.

The Open Championship and greatness go hand in hand, so it is rare that an Open champion does not regard themselves as a great player.

Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, believes that he was a “good player”, but “the great players are those who are top-10 in the world year after year after year”.

However, there is no denying that Baker-Finch achieved greatness on a warm English weekend at Royal Birkdale thirty years ago.

“I actually hit the ball great that weekend,” he told Inside The Ropes.

The Queenslander commenced his round on Saturday four shots off the leaders, but a six-under round of 64 quickly catapulted him into a share of the lead.

He played near-perfect golf and he managed to continue the momentum the next day.

Birdies on five of the opening seven holes to shoot 29 on the front nine turned Sunday afternoon into a victory procession.

He slowed on the back-nine to finish the final round with a four-under 66.

But it did not matter, the damage was done earlier in the day.

Top spot on the famous yellow scoreboard read ‘72, -8, Baker Finch, 272’.

The champion finished two shots clear of compatriot Mike Harwood.

Craig Parry and Greg Norman also placed in the top-10 to make it a great week for Australia.

While his countrymen played well, Baker-Finch found another level.

His caddie, the legendary Pete Bender, described the Sunday as like riding the champion racehorse Secretariat - all he had to do was stay on and it was going to win.

He was in the zone and his visualisations that day may have inspired the shot-making features of golf video games.

“It was like an iridescent white line, it was really creepy,” he said.

“In my pre-shot routine, I’d be over the ball and I’d look down from the ball to the target and it was just a bright white line straight to the flag and the flag was lit up.”

“I’d had that sometimes on the greens in the past, when I’ve putted really well where I could see a channel to the hole.”

It is a feeling that most athletes will never have.

“To do it that one time in a major is very special,” he said.

To remember that feeling the Florida resident opts against watching his victory on YouTube, instead he chooses to reflect.

The Open is actually a “rare week off” from broadcast commitments for Baker-Finch.

Unsurprisingly, he uses the downtime to watch the current crop of players - many of whom he has great relationships with - in The Open.

When he gets away from the television, time around the house means occasionally setting eyes on old memorabilia - namely the Claret Jug and his iconic pink shirt - and casting his mind back to 1991.

Although, he likes to focus more on the latest player to taste success.

“I always cheers out of the Claret Jug to the new champion on the Sunday night, something appropriate depending on the nationality of the winner,” he said.

Podcast | Australian Golf Show

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