Am enclosing information regarding the miraculous mud baths of northern Italy. Go and spend two weeks there, and you will be cured. When you start making checks again, we'll talk about my fee.
It's November 1997, and Baker-Finch's fax machine becomes the first in history to spit out a life preserver. Jack Graham of ABC Sports is offering Baker-Finch a full-time on-course commentating job. A way out. With some dignity. "It's tempting," Baker-Finch says, fingering the fax over and over. "It's really tempting. Should I put aside everything, my passion? My heart? But if I go out on Tour again, are they going to laugh at me again? Sometimes, I think I'm too scared to even do it again."
If he turns down ABC, there is no guarantee the network will come back. "We've been saying for a long time, 'Let's let it go,' " says Jennie. "But he just can't."
Besides, if he gives up, he'll be giving up on his grittiest comeback yet. Sixty hours a week he has been working on his game with Edwin, who is about as ethereal and psychological as a divot. "All that hypnosis and 'think positive' and all that mumbo jumbo mean nothing if your technique stinks," Edwin says. "Ian's technique stunk."
Edwin has treated him as a rank beginner with a rental set and a baseball grip. For the first week they did nothing but stand in front of the mirror and make one-quarter swings. For a month they did nothing but take half swings. Then Edwin taught Baker-Finch a simple little shot—the "chip cut," he calls it. It takes the tilt out of your swing and keeps the backswing upright and short. It is nothing more than a little fade. Edwin says, "People keep saying, 'Well, when the old Ian comes back, he's going to....' No. Forget it. That Ian is gone. That swing is gone, and it's never coming back."
There's this, too: If Baker-Finch doesn't play 15 tournaments on the U.S. Tour in 1998, he loses his Tour card, exemption or no exemption. And since he has no plans to play the U.S. Tour, he will have to take the long way back. He will have to beat every young stick in town, and if he does that, he'll have to beat every young stick in Australia, and if he does that, he'll have to take on every big stick in the world.
Still, when he trusts the little fade, Baker-Finch hits it down the middle. Short, but down the middle. "But when I get three under or so, I panic," he says.
Rogers thinks a comeback by Baker-Finch is possible—remotely possible. "What he has to do is face his fear and beat it," Rogers says. "Every time he fears the snap hook, he's going to have to line up down the left side and try to cut it. Just lean into it. Even if he hits 25 in a row out-of-bounds left, he's got to do it. He's got to test it, test it and test it until he's no longer afraid."
Says Baker-Finch, "I know what I have to do. I need to stop being so afraid. I need to step up there and say, 'I'm Ian Baker-Finch, Open champion, and screw everybody else.' And smash it down the middle." He is a million miles from anywhere, of course, but a mild profanity like that is at least a start.
Edwin has him playing the smallest pro-ams he can find. Even in those, word gets out. At his first one back, last summer, a few hundred people and a load of press turned up to watch. "All of them are there for one thing," Edwin said. "To see a killer snap hook." Cottonmouthed, Baker-Finch lined up on the left half of the fairway and chip-cut it down the middle.