Storm Clouds Forming

This Friday marks the debut of Ian Baker-Finch on the Champions Tour. You know him as the affable, Aussie color commentator who began his broadcast career on ABC and who moved to CBS when ABC got out of the golf broadcast business.

If your memory is long enough, you will also remember him as the winner of the 1991 British Open. In a subsequent attempt to “get better,” he managed to not only destroy a swing capable of winning a major, he destroyed any confidence he had to play the game. He missed 32 cuts in a row on the PGA Tour from 1994 to 1997. The bottom came in the 1997 British Open when he shot a first-round 92. He withdrew from the tournament and disappeared from the PGA Tour.

He did not however, disappear from the game. He still played at home every day with friends and there were stories of him handily shooting low scores in the 60’s. Just like the good old days.

As his broadcast career has evolved in the intervening years, we have gotten to know him as one of the truly good guys of the game. His low-key Aussie accent, understated humor and keen player’s insights about the game have made him an endearing character. Particularly when you include the tragedy of what happened to his game. He’s become a very likeable, sympathetic man.

So it was with great trepidation that I read the transcript of his media room interview from this week’s Toshiba Classic at the Newport Beach Country Club in Newport Beach, California.

Alarm bells immediately went off for me once he got through his effusive comments about how happy he was to be out on Tour again, how excited he was to have a shot at his first Champions Tour event and how glad he was to see all his old friends. But then this:

If I may go on a little bit, I’m also experiencing exactly what I thought I would with the apprehension of how am I going to play.

I hope I don’t make a fool of myself. I hope my golf, you know, is good enough that I can continue to enjoy myself and enjoy the experience.

I’m actually better now than I was the last two weeks. The last two weeks leading in, I had at least 5 different swing thoughts every day.

I went from shooting an average of 68 every time I played, to an average of 74 every time I played just in three or four weeks, to a point where about two days ago I said, right, I’m just going to go back to doing what I do, which is where I was four weeks ago, but I just wasted the last four weeks working on everyone else’s swing thoughts instead of my own.

Three or four weeks before the event and he is already filled with fear and self-doubt. His hope that he doesn’t “make a fool of himself,” is the classic egoic conversation we’ve been discussing on this blog that destroys instead of empowers.

There is still more “whistling past the graveyard” commentary about his utter glee at this new chance in his golf career. But it is peppered with a like number of comments filled with self-doubt and dread.

My original plan was to do research on his 90’s collapse to establish a foundation for the enormity of what he was trying to overcome, excerpt his interview comments here and comment about debilitating ego conversations using those specific, real-life examples. But before I got halfway through the interview, they became much too long for this forum. Moreover, when I found a great, very candid Golf Digest interview from 2005, there were more quotes there that I couldn’t incorporate either.

And so, thanks to Ian Baker-Finch’s intelligent, brutal, candor in these two interviews, we have been given the gift of a classic example of how the ego can overwhelm the spirit. The poison that it can inject into our sense of ourselves, into our very spiritual essence, is one of the great mysteries of humanity.

Perhaps it’s God’s way, with the benefit of all the years it takes to discover these things, to help us see that we even have an essence. And, it follows, to see that that’s who we truly are and not our egos.

To appreciate the totality of Baker-Finch’s revelations, I recommend that you read the Golf Digest interview first and then the Toshiba Classic interview. He has given it all to us and excerpts would not have done it justice.

Good luck this weekend, Finchy. Just play and play well. Stay in the moment: target, ball, club, body. And don’t pay attention to your ego’s worst fears. They’re not the truth about who you really are.

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