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After her daddy got his first taste of winning a major at the 1991 Open Championship, Ian Baker-Finch's then-2-year-old daughter Hayley got a taste of the famed Claret Jug. (Photo: Getty Images)

Q&A with '91 Open Champion Ian Baker-Finch

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Before heading to Royal Birkdale, site of his 1991 Open Championship victory, new TNT analyst Ian Baker-Finch chatted with PGA.com managing editor John L. Byrwa about his career-defining win at Birkdale, his subsequent infamous collapse and the current state of his game.

How excited are you to be returning to the scene of your greatest triumph? Have you been back to Royal Birkdale since you won in 1991?

I'm very excited to get back to Birkdale. I've been back over the years whenever I'm over for the Open and I always pop in and say "hi" to the Secretary and any members who happen to be around the bar. I didn't play last year when I was over for Hoylake, but I did see all the changes, especially the green at 17. I told them it wasn't too late to change it back, but I like a lot of the changes and I like what they've done to the bunkers and the fairways. They've really made them into narrow corridors where you have to drive the ball well to avoid the bunkers. That's the key about the Open Championship -- it's not how far how drive the ball, but you have to drive it precisely and avoid the bunkers. And the course should be lush and green so it should be really beautiful.

In that '91 Open Championship as a 30-year-old, you shot 64-66 over the weekend, including a 29 on the front nine Sunday en route to a two-shot win. Given the circumstances, that had to be the greatest 36-hole stretch of your career wasn't it?

Yes, I would have to say it was for me. To be in a major and to play that sort of golf ... I had been playing extremely well heading into that Open; I lost in playoff the week before and had a number of top-10 finishes so I was in good form. I knew I was playing well. All I wanted to do was keep playing the way I had been playing and don't allow the emotions of a major take away from my ability to hit the ball, and I did it that week. I didn't miss any shots that last day. I had five putts over the first seven holes and that got me started. I just two-putted every green from there on in, played conservative golf, hit fairways and hit greens. That's all I needed to do.

Is there one particular shot or hole you remember most from that final round?

I think my drive and second shot at 6 stick out. It's a very difficult hole and it's easy to make double-bogey there. I hit a great drive and then hit a 7-iron to 6 feet and made the birdie. Then on 7 I hit a 7-iron to 7 feet and made that. Then I looked at the board and saw that I was five shots in front. I started thinking, "Whatever you do, don't mess up. I've got 11 holes to play and I'm five up. Hey, all you have to do is it keep it up." I hit a 4-iron on 16 in close but didn't make they putt, the on 17 I reached it in two and two-putted for birdie for a two-shot lead. All I had to do was hang on, which I did.

Do you sometimes sit back and savor that time of your life, how awesome it was?

To be honest, not too often. Around the Open, I'm reminded about it a lot and it's hard not to think back. It was easily the greatest golf I'd played, but it was my goal to play great championship golf. It was my goal back in 1984 when I led after 36 holes at St. Andrews, and I thought, "Hey, maybe this young Aussie can play championship golf."


You won your first professional title at the 1983 New Zealand Open, which got you into the 1984 Open Championship at St. Andrews, where you were the surprising 36-hole leader after rounds of 68-66, and then were tied for the 54-hole lead with Tom Watson before finishing tied for ninth. What are your memories of that experience and did that tournament make you say, you know, I can do this?

Definitely. It just gave me the confidence to know I could compete at that level. I was only 23 at the time and I had a great love for links golf and championship golf. Then in 1990 I played in the final group on Sunday with Nick Faldo at St. Andrews, so I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of doing it. But both experiences, while they may not have ended on a positive note, gave me the belief that, hey I can do that.

Of course, it wouldn't be an interview if we don't mention the agony that befell you in 1995. We don't have to go into the gory details, so to speak, but does it still haunt you? Do you ever wonder what if?

I think a lot has been written about St. Andrews in '95 and that tee shot on the first tee. It's not that it's anything that haunts me, because it really wasn't that bad a shot. It was just into strong wind, I was nervous playing with Arnie (Palmer), my hat fell off when the wind blew and I hit a hook that hit the 18th fairway and went OB. I think it's one of those shots that's now part of golfing history at Open. People say, "What about that Open Championship at St. Andrews when Baker-Finch hit it OB off the first tee."

For me, the lowest point was '97. I hadn't played in three years, I played poorly and hadn't played (the Open) since ('95). That was the low point. For six months I didn't play at all. I had a couple injuries and just stayed at home. What happened was I got over there (Royal Troon) and wasn't event planning to play but everyone talked me into it. It was probably a bad decision but not one that haunts me. Hey, I've got another career; I've got a great family, a wonderful life. I can't complain at all.

How much do you play now and how's your game?

Oh, I play in a couple of tournaments here and there. I'm a plus-5 handicap at my home club -- I put scores in just to keep a record for myself.

You'll be 48 years old this October. Do you harbor any thoughts of maybe giving the Champions Tour a try?

I'll play it part-time. I'm definitely not giving up my day job. I love the work I do with CBS and TNT and I love my career. I'll probably just do what (Gary) McCord does, play every once in a while when I get the chance.

Ian, thanks so much for your time and all the best.

It was my pleasure and same to you.

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