Date: August 10, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

IBF gets his Olympic groove on

Australian Olympic golf captain Ian Baker-Finch has longed for today.

Baker-Finch, a phenomenal spokesman and advocate for golf’s return to the Games family after 112 years, has seemingly been locked in unwanted discussions about controversies and negatives for months.

But today, as he faced the media in sun-drenched Rio, the pieces of the puzzle he’s dwelt over seemed to come together at just the right time.

With the one-time unlikely duo of Scott Hend and Marcus Fraser clearly excited about the possibilities at their fingertips, Baker-Finch said it was time for Australia to rally around those who were in Brazil, not speculate over those who couldn’t be.

“Not only because that goes without saying, but they’re both top blokes, they’re Aussies through and through,” the 1991 Open Championship winner beamed after the green and gold contingent completed another practice round.

“`Hendy’ was born in the Northern Territory and lived in Queensland most of his life. He is a real true-blue Aussie. And Marcus is from Corowa. His wife is here with him, his caddie is one of his best mates from his home town.

“They’re both in the top 80 in the world. If they play well, they’re definitely medal chances.

“They’re both playing nicely … they both made the cut and had a respectable show at the (US) PGA. They’re honoured to be here and really looking forward to playing.”

And then the real reason for the spring in Baker-Finch’s step.

“I think the course will suit them because it suits their eye. They will be comfortable.”

Baker-Finch has been pleasantly surprised by the Barra da Tijuca course, which has won high praise from most in the golfing community seeing it for the first time this week.

And with wind expected to play a key factor across a layout that has design and visual similarities with Melbourne’s Sandbelt, the layout could play into the Australians’ hands.

“I like it,” Baker-Finch said. “I think it is very good. There is more grass cover and it is in better condition than I was expecting. I was pleasantly surprised that it had grown in as well as it had.

“Windy, warm temperatures, it’s just right up their alley. They might surprise everybody and be there in the hunt at the weekend.”

The Aussie officials have spoken to course designer Gil Hanse as part of their reconnaissance for the tournament. Hanse has designed a layout largely devoid of rough and trees, with native grass and 79 bunkers its chief defences alongside the wind.

It’s little wonder Baker-Finch is so positive heading into the opening round on Thursday night (AEST), a belief fuelled by regular dialogue with Hend and Fraser in the past couple of months.

“Since we knew what the team would be, we have been in constant contact via text and email,” he said.

“I went and spoke to them both in the US when they were playing a tournament there, just giving them a bit of friendly advice on the way. Just basic stuff. They’re professional golfers who travel the world.”