"I don't ever think I've seen him drunk," says countryman Simon Hobday, sounding disappointed. Hobday, a five-time winner on the Senior tour, grew up competing against Baiocchi, and, he adds wistfully, "He was always my pal until 5 o'clock in the evening. Then he ran away."
It was the Senior success of Hobday and another South African contemporary, John Bland, that persuaded Baiocchi to leave his beach house in Cape Town (he also keeps a flat outside of London) and finally take a stab at making it in the States. But even after five weeks of intensive work with David Leadbetter as preparation, Baiocchi earned only a conditional card at the '96 Q school, and facing an uncertain schedule, he almost packed up and went home. That was when Hobday provided some unsolicited advice. "I said, 'Listen, mate, we were too scared to come over here the first time around and that was a mistake. You only get one second chance.' "
Taking Hobday's words to heart, Baiocchi began his rookie year, 1997, by playing in Monday qualifiers. It wasn't until April that he made it into a tournament, the PGA Seniors, in which he finished 35th. In his third start, the World Seniors Invitational, he cracked the top 10, earning him entr�e into the following week's event. Three consecutive top 10 finishes ensued, including a playoff loss to Bruce Crampton at the Cadillac NFL Classic. Thus established, Baiocchi began an ascent that culminated that August with his first victory when he beat Bob Duval in a playoff at the Pittsburgh Classic. For the season he earned $906,565, good for eighth on the money list. "The golf was altogether satisfying, but what was really thrilling was finally getting to experience America," says Baiocchi. "To visit the cities that I had spent a lifetime reading about made the year unforgettable."
This season has also been one to remember. Baiocchi's scorching play began during a practice round at last month's Comfort Classic, in Indianapolis, when fellow pro Steve Veriato told Baiocchi that he had been lifting the putter on his backswing. Baiocchi won the tournament and the next week trumped Summerhays in a playoff at the Kroger Classic. Says Summerhays, "Hugh might be the best ball striker on tour. He hits it so sweet that when he gets his putter going, he's right there with Hale."
Baiocchi has been equally impressed by Summerhays. "There is no fright in that man," Baiocchi says. "Bruce simply crashes his drives down the middle, fires his irons at the flag and rams his putts into the hole. He exudes confidence and aggressiveness."
Both have played some of the most grueling schedules in golf. With a month left until the season-ending Senior Tour Championship, Baiocchi has already teed it up in 30 tournaments, two fewer than Summerhays. "It's such a privilege to be out here, it's hard to turn your back on any tournament," says Baiocchi.
Adds Summerhays, "I think both of us are making up for lost time."