Baker's inner belief results in TOUR card
September 06, 2019
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
Chris Baker reflects on his journey to the PGA TOUR
After the opening round of the 2003 Indiana High School Boys Golf Championship, Chris Baker called his instructor Brad Morrow.
“Let’s get the video out, pro,” Baker said to Morrow. “We’ve got to work on my swing.”
Morrow figured that Baker, then a junior at Brownstown Central High School, must have struggled that day.
Actually, Baker had rebounded from a 3-over through 2 start to shoot 68, and was well positioned to contend for the 36-hole title.
“I’m like, ‘What are you videoing for?’” Morrow said. “He’s like, ‘I can hit it better.’ I’m like, ‘OK, what are you looking for?’ He’s like, ‘Well, I just missed it a little right.’
“He was always that perfectionist. He was always just that much involved in saying, ‘I need to get better.’ From that age, ‘That’s what I want. I want to get better. I just don’t want to be this good. I want to be better than this.’”
After finishing No. 26 on the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List, Baker began the three-event Finals from scratch, tied with all other players between Nos. 26-75 on the Regular Season Points List as well as Nos. 126-200 in the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup standings.
Some with that perfectionist ethos might view the back-to-square-one reality as a negative. Baker saw it as an opportunity, one of many fresh starts in his 12-year professional career to chase a PGA TOUR card.
With MC-T37 finishes in the first two Finals events, Baker found himself playing from behind as he entered the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship in his home state of Indiana, less than two-and-a-half hours from Brownstown. The 33-year-old stood T48 on The Finals 25 Points List, knowing his first TOUR card would not be backed into. He would have to earn it.
Rounds of 63-69-73, and a T6 position entering the final round at Victoria National GC, provided yet another opportunity in a season full of them.
Baker took the 36-hole lead at the Country Club de Bogota Championship in early February, only to shoot 70-80 on the weekend and finish T51. He led by four through 54 holes at the REX Hospital Open in early June, only to shoot a final-round 72 and finish fourth.
He stood No. 24 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List entering the Regular Season-ending WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by KraftHeinz, oh-so-close to realizing the dream. He missed the cut, waiting all weekend to see how the scenarios would play out. As the final group reached the 72nd hole at Pumpkin Ridge GC, a scenario still remained for Baker to finish inside The 25.
But Bo Hoag made birdie to win, and Scott Harrington made birdie to finish solo second. Both surpassed Baker, who fell one position shy of a TOUR card, forced to gain TOUR status via the Finals.
With a lifetime of ambition and expectations lingering in the subconscious, Baker delivered one of his finest performances in front of legions of family, friends and fans. Propelled by a five-birdie, four-par stretch around the turn, Baker shot 2-under 70 to move into a tie for fourth, punctuated by a 6-foot par at the 72nd hole and emotional hugs with his mom, girlfriend and countless other loyal supporters.
When the dust settled, Baker had moved to No. 18 on The Finals 25. This time, he would not fall short. He’ll make his PGA TOUR debut as a member at next week’s A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier.
“How can we do one word for the PGA TOUR?” Baker said after Monday evening’s The Finals 25 card ceremony, as he relished the moment with his crew. “Belief. It’s been a long time coming. We’re here, ready to go, and ready to have a lot of fun. Just enjoy it. I couldn’t be happier.
“I’m just thrilled. Over the moon. Friends and family, thank you for taking me through this. The PGA TOUR … it’s a dream of mine, and I’m ready to go do this.”Chris Baker is interviewed after Round 2 of the Korn Ferry Championship. (Ben Jared/Gerry Images)
The final moments of the Korn Ferry Tour season frequently provide abundant drama, and the back nine Monday at Victoria National did not disappoint.
The intensity began earlier in the day, with perennial bubble boy Rob Oppenheim – who began Monday projected No. 25 on The Finals 25 – signing for a 3-under 69 to give himself a strong chance to maintain or better his position.
Oppenheim appeared safe, but certain scenarios lingered where he could be bumped, and he did not want to take any chances.
An hour later, Joseph Bramlett made bogey at the 72nd hole for a 2-under 70, and exited the green dejectedly as his close friend Maverick McNealy – who secured his first TOUR card via the Regular Season – looked on.
Bramlett earned his first TOUR card right out of college in 2011, but suffered debilitating back injuries through his mid-20s – only making four TOUR-sanctioned starts in a 4.5-year period – and rebuilding his swing to sustain under the consistent athletic motion that professional golf demands.
The 31-year-old returned to the Korn Ferry Tour full-time in 2018, and fell on the wrong side of the bubble in both the 2018 and 2019 Regular Seasons. At one point in the second round at Victoria National, he led by three shots. But four bogeys in his final five holes of Sunday’s third round moved him to projected No. 26 on The Finals 25, setting up a Monday of drama and stress.
Shortly after completing his final round early Monday afternoon, he was projected No. 26.
Midway through the afternoon, several players delivered clutch performances to break inside The Finals 25 …
• Indiana’s Tyler Duncan shot 6-under 66 to finish T4, moving from 41st to 12th on The Finals 25.
• Canada’s David Hearn matched Duncan’s 66 and T4 finish, moving from 42nd to 13th.
• Australia’s Cameron Davis shot a final-round 67 to finish T13, advancing from T34 to No. 21 on The Finals 25.
• Argentina’s Fabian Gomez shot 6-under 66 to finish solo second, moving from T51 to No. 5 in Finals Points.
• England’s Tom Lewis lapped the field, shooting 7-under 65 to win by five shots, advancing from off the Points List to No. 2, in his first career Korn Ferry Tour start no less.
• Richy Werenski (69) and D.J. Trahan (70) each came up clutch in the final round to finish T7 for the week, each moving from T53 to T24 on The Finals 25. Trahan delivered one of the Finals’ most memorable moments with a pinpoint approach to 4 feet on the 72nd hole, uttering “Get back there. Get back there. Go!” as the ball was in the air, then draining the putt to move inside the magic number.
• Doug Ghim delivered a moment that resonated through the golf world, getting up-and-down from a greenside bunker for par on the 72nd hole, punctuated by an emphatic fist-pump after making his 10-foot par putt, finishing T19 for the tournament and moving from No. 29 to No. 23 on The Finals 25.
As the dust settled, Oppenheim (moving from No. 16 to No. 20) and Bramlett (from 17th to 22nd) also proved successful in their respective quests for a PGA TOUR return.Chris Baker hugs his girlfriend after officially earning his TOUR card at the Korn Ferry Tour finale. (Ben Jared/Getty Images)
Of the nine players to move inside The Finals 25 at Victoria National, six (Duncan, Davis, Hearn, Gomez, Trahan, Werenski) had previously held TOUR membership. Ghim secured his first TOUR card in his first full year out of college, without the scar tissue of professional shortcoming, and Lewis holds strong European Tour standing as a two-time winner and top-100 player in the world.
Hence, the heartbeat of the Victoria National premises was wedded to Baker, the local kid who made an impromptu trip home earlier in the week to play the muni track on which he grew up, nine-hole, 3,100-yard Hickory Hills GC. (Baker’s parents live a few blocks from the course, and he made a second impromptu trip to grab a persimmon wood prior to teeing off on No. 4.)
Baker’s first professional win came less than five miles from Victoria National, shooting 27-under through four rounds at the NGA Hooters Classic, punctuated by a final-round, 10-under 61.
The Iowa State alum also won a Challenge Tour event in Morocco before securing Korn Ferry Tour status for the first time in 2011.
Baker hadn’t always kept status, though, and in 2013 he found himself sleeping on an air mattress in Iowa, looking for NCAA coaching jobs online while preparing for the Greater Cedar Rapids Open. Money was tight, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep the dream alive.
He won the event, which allowed him to pay bills and fund Q-School entry.
The now-Jacksonville Beach, Florida, resident has played a full Korn Ferry Tour schedule ever since – with a couple of successful Q-School forays mixed in, including a final-round 64 at Final Stage last December, where he changed putters approximately 10 minutes before the final round – “I wasn’t going to shoot 64 with that putter,” he later said of the flat stick used earlier in the week at Whirlwind GC in Arizona.
Baker again changed putters before the final round at Victoria National, the 447th of his Korn Ferry Tour career and the most important.
The perfectionist nature illustrated by Morrow has sometimes gotten the best of Baker when it comes to the flat stick. He admits that he can sometimes ‘search’ when the putter has a rough day, and strives to move toward acceptance that not every round will click on all cylinders.
“Just trying too hard, trying to be too perfect,” said Baker of frequent putter changes. “With my swing, I feel like I’m not going to be so far off … when pressure comes, (putting) is what gets to me first.
“I switched putters in Wichita … I putted fine there, putted great all the way prior, and then kind of searched after that. The moral of the story is to probably switch to one putter, keep one putter. You can’t putt great every day.”
When it came down to it, though, Baker holed just enough putts on the final day in southern Indiana to achieve his lifelong dream. The day might not have been perfect; he three-putted for double bogey on the penultimate hole, and he admittedly didn’t make the best stroke on the final 6-foot par putt that cemented his place inside The Finals 25.
The end result wasn’t technically perfect. But emotionally it was.
“I wasn’t confident over it,” Baker said of his final putt before becoming a PGA TOUR member. “It wasn’t a good putt, but it went in. We’re here now, and I have this shiny (TOUR) card with my name on it. I couldn’t be more happy.”
Chris Baker interview after Round 4 of Korn Ferry Tour Championship
The day after calling Morrow with a nagging desire to fix the right miss, Baker shot a second-round 67 to win the Indiana high school state title and break the scoring record held by Fuzzy Zoeller for three decades.
Despite the doubts, his work ethic and talent shone through, and he got the job done. Sixteen years later, on a serene Monday afternoon at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, Baker once again received a momentous trophy in his home state – a PGA TOUR card.
Baker’s mom, Becky, walked every step of the way at Victoria National. This past June, she retired from a 43-year teaching career at Brownstown Elementary. One of her favorite quotes, which she frequently shared with her students, came from Henry Ford – “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
When asked to provide a congratulatory video message after her son’s status as a PGA TOUR member was cemented, Becky Baker took a moment to collect herself. As the emotion bubbled to the surface, she smiled warmly and delivered a heartfelt sentiment, ending with, “I love you and I’m very, very, very, very, very proud of you.”
While concluding his post-round interview requests Monday evening on Victoria National’s 18th green, Baker was shown a picture of his elementary-school self, carefree and smiling, riding a scooter and carrying a play sword.
He was asked what he would say to his younger self, if he could.
After maintaining his composure through several rounds of interviews, Baker paused and allowed the tears to well up. He thought back to the years on mini-tours, the nights spent on air mattresses, and the lifelong perfectionism that could sometimes work as a double-edged sword.
The moments of disappointment no longer mattered. Was the journey worth it? “Every bit. Every bit.”
What would he say to his elementary-school self?
Following a moment of reflection, a simple wish was the only message needed.
Baker always thought he could play the PGA TOUR. Turns out, he was right.