Why not? For the first time in his life, he figured he had the time to get great. Winning the Open gave him a 10-year exemption on the U.S. and Australasian tours, not to mention an invite to the British Open until he is 65. All he had to do was work harder, and if there's one thing Baker-Finches are willing to do, it's work harder. Ian's father, Tony, was the hardest-working man in Peachester, an hour north of Brisbane. He labored as an electrician and a sawmill operator while running a 25-acre farm and fathering six kids. So when Ian, at 15, asked his parents if he could leave school and go to work as a golf pro, they helped him pack.
Not that it was glamorous. Ian did anything—retrieved range balls, gave lessons, picked pineapples—to make ends meet. He was not a great player, but he wasn't bad. He was never long. Either you are born long or you aren't. Great short games, though, are earned with hours of sweat. Baker-Finch became one of the world's finest players from 100 yards in, good enough to make the top 10 in two or three tournaments a year, to win one once in a while and get a nice courtesy car.
But he was no Greg Norman. He was never going to be great, and somewhere deep down, he knew it. "I always thought of myself as just a farm boy," Baker-Finch says. "I never believed in myself enough. I didn't like my swing. I was always trying to change it. I never saw myself as the equal of Nick Faldo or Norman. I never thought I had that kind of talent."
Birkdale, however, opened a small window in his ego. Now that he had beaten Faldo, beaten Norman, beaten them all, he had this overwhelming feeling of not being considered good enough. So he decided to try to take his lounge act straight to Radio City Music Hall.
The bottom line is, you are sick. Physically sick.
A FRIEND, New York City
What he wanted to be was longer, but he couldn't get longer without going past his smooth little backswing, and when he wandered out past it, he found ugly little snap hooks. Not many, true, but even one snap hook is a mealworm in the cupboard.
He was also wrong about time. After winning a major, he had less time than before. He stretched himself clueless. By the end of 1991 he had traveled the world, having turned down nobody. He attended everybody's awards dinners, no matter how small. He got involved in a hat company, a golf course, a golf school, golf architecture. He said yes to every interview, speech and autograph. Who was a farmer's kid to get snobbish?
Worse, he never had a good stare. Golf is the most public game of all. Its heroes routinely wade through fans just to get to their next shot. But the great players have a stare to get them through the masses. Norman has this screw-you blue-eyed stare that takes your body temperature down 12°. Tiger Woods has a Nintendo-blinded-teenager look. Ray Floyd has a glare that would halt a parade. But Baker-Finch's eyes always seem to say, Come over here and tell me about the time your Aunt Violet met Harry Vardon. "It would take me a half hour just to get to the range," he remembers. "All my practice habits changed."
His 1992 was not much different from his 1991—a win in Australia, a second in the U.S., 58th on the U.S. money list—but now that looked so Miss Wyomingish next to Winner, British Open. He considered '92 a failure. He was disgusted. He swore he would change. His victory in the '92 Vines Classic in Australia had brought him only "relief, not joy," he says. "I'd finally won, but it was so the Australian press could see that I could win again."
He took a two-month break from tournaments as '92 turned to '93. Practiced every day. When he came back, he ratcheted up the pressure on himself. The bigger the tournament, the more pounds per square inch. His goal was to finish in the top 10 in every major in 1993. Each major Sunday, he had a chance to do it. All four Sundays, he put it in the ditch: 54th at the Masters, 19th in the U.S. Open, 70th at the British Open, 66th at the PGA. He won the Australian PGA but the rest of the year was miserable. Too proud to hit two-irons off the tee ("That would be like giving up," he told friends), too much his father to take three months off and give his poor nerves a rest, he watched his game unravel like a cheap sweater. "I'm at the bottom of the pit," he said at the time.