Date: November 23, 2014
Author: John Huggan /

Baker-Finch’s lingering Australian Open regret

It is, of course, the dream of every golfer to win his national Open title. And Ian Baker-Finch was no exception. Highlighted by a memorable Open Championship triumph at Royal Birkdale in 1991, the now 54-year old Queenslander amassed as many as 16 worldwide tournament victories. But he never won the Emirates Australian Open. Twice a runner-up – in 1983 at Kingston Heath and again at Metropolitan three years later – Baker-Finch couldn’t quite get his hands on the storied Stonehaven Cup.

 “I’d go as far to say, other than the four majors, the Australian Open is the one event any Aussie would most want to win,” says the man who this week leads the Seven Network commentary team at The Australian. “I finished second a couple of times and that is a lingering regret. It’s the biggest gap in my golfing cv.”

No surprise there. For over a century, the Australian Open has been one of the most sought-after titles in the game. Even the briefest of glances at the long and distinguished list of champions confirms just how prestigious the championship has been almost since its inception in 1904.

“The Aussie Open is right up there alongside tournaments like the Scottish, Canadian and South African Opens in a historical sense,” confirms Baker-Finch. “While working for CBS in the States, I always give the Canadian Open its due. To the PGA Tour it might just be another event on the schedule, but for me a national Open is extra-special. And the Aussie Open is the same way.

 “The roster of past-winners is like a who’s-who of golf over the years. Look how often the ‘Big-Three’ of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player came down to play in the 1960s and 70s. And, even better, look how often they won. That their names appear on the trophy only adds to the stature of the event.”

That standing was further enhanced a year ago when then-Masters champion Adam Scott and now world number one Rory McIlroy went head-to-head down the stretch at Royal Sydney. One shot back with a hole to play, the Ulsterman made a closing birdie to Scott’s bogey and pipped his rival to the winner’s cheque. It was a sensational climax to what will surely be seen by history as a seminal championship.

 “Last year really was awesome,” agrees Baker Finch, who first completed 72-holes in an Australian Open at this year’s venue back in 1982. “Adam was coming home with the green jacket. And Rory, looking back now, used the event to kick-start phase two of his career, if you like. So it really was one for the ages, a time when everything came together at once. I’m proud of both for committing to a return visit.

“This year could be just as good too. The Australian club has produced some great finishes and winners over the years and I’m hopeful 2014 will be no exception. The championship deserves nothing but the best. It isn’t enough that a sponsor can come along, put down $10m, and call an event ‘special.’ There has to be more to it than cash. History has its place in our game and older titles like the Australian Open deserve their spots, even amidst tournaments offering bigger prize money.

“It is great to see our leading players acknowledging that fact with their presence this week. I hope the Australian people realise how much Adam in particular is giving back to golf at home. He is pretty much the model for what any great player should do with his celebrity in promoting the game.”