Oh, no, he wasn't.
To Ian Baker-Finch:
I've noticed you stare at the ball without really looking at it. The eyes start to move toward the target a fraction before impact. Eliminate this simple mistake and you'll be fine.
He has received more than 4,500 letters, containing maps, prescriptions, poems, cures, charms, prayers, mantras, gadgets and recipes to snap him out of it. He has answered almost all of them. That's the kind of man he is, decent and sweet—and it's ruined him. "He can't tell these people to buzz off," says Leadbetter. "To win today, you've got to have a bit of bastard in you. Ian doesn't."
Well-meaning people were on him like eczema—and not just fans. Nick Price told him to grip it stronger. Sandy Lyle told him to keep his elbows pointed more toward the ground. Faldo told him to practice swinging with his eyes closed. Ian Woosnam told him to just grip it tight and rip it. Seve Ballesteros told him to hit shots as softly as he could. Ronan Rafferty told him to forget tees and hit it right off the grass. Norman told him to study Zen. Payne Stewart told him to keep his knees moving. Ozzie Moore told him to keep his knees locked. Baker-Finch listened to all of them. One day, in Orlando, he was working on a tip given to him by a player when he was shocked erect by an awful realization: I was working on this exact same thing here last year!
Confusion only dug him deeper into his hole. He was missing a lot of shots right, so he decided to make his swing plane flatter. Flat is usually fatal for tall guys. Flat will have a tall guy selling life insurance in no time. Tall guys have graceful upright swings, like Tom Weiskopf's. Working with Steve Bann, Baker-Finch got the club face slightly more laid off than a Braniff employee. "That was the biggest mistake I made in my life," he says.
Says Leadbetter, "Ian needed just one pill, and instead he took the whole bottle."
Your golf swing lives in your muscle memory, like your ability to tie a Windsor knot while looking in the mirror. By the time Baker-Finch was done trying swings suggested by friends, players, coaches, fans, strangers, articles, books and tapes, his muscles had purged the original. "My muscles have no memory of that old swing," he says ruefully. "It's gone forever."
Now he was missing shots left and right, hemlock to the touring pro. He managed one last top 10, at the Masters in April '94, and then began the scariest free fall anybody in golf can remember: 64th the next week at Hilton Head, then the reverse Nelson—10 straight missed cuts—from early May to the middle of August. Ten straight tournaments letting fear grow inside him like a ball of yarn. Ten straight tournaments of practicing well on Monday, taking money from his buddies in the practice round on Tuesday ("They never beat me," he says), playing terrific in the pro-am on Wednesday and shooting 81 on Thursday. "It was so miserable," says his wife, Jennie. "We were living in Orlando. The plan was, the kids would go to school, and then we'd join him on the weekend wherever he was. But he was always home by Friday night."
The caddies had their own line on him.
Q: What's the best bag out here?