Ian Baker-Finch began his professional career on the PGA Tour of Australasia, winning his first professional tournament, the New Zealand Open, in 1983. Middlemore was the venue for this championship played on November 24 to 27, and for the young Australian Ian Baker-Finch, the result cemented his position as a rising star in the professional ranks.
While his compatriot Wayne Grady held a two-stroke advantage after two rounds, it was to be the final day action that would determine the greater success. Grady was unable to impress following a poor third round.
Vivian and Reese kept the Kiwi hopes alive though putting lapses did not help. When Vivian put his tee shot out of bounds on the final hole, his steadiness which had promised much over the previous three days had totally evaporated.
That victory earned him an entry to The Open Championship in 1984. He would make headlines by taking the 36-hole lead, holding onto the lead after three rounds but then shooting a disastrous last round 79 to finish ninth, much in the manner of Bobby Clampett who had endured a similar collapse two years previously.
He joined the European Tour, winning the 1985 Scandinavian Enterprise Open and finishing in the top-20 on the order of merit in both 1985 and 1986. At the same time, he continued to play in Australasia in the Northern Hemisphere winter, picking up several further tournament titles there and occasionally played on the Japan Golf Tour.
He first played on the PGA Tour as an invitee in 1985 and began to do so regularly in 1989, having qualified for tour membership by finishing third in the 1988 World Series of Golf. He won his first PGA Tour title at the 1989 Southwestern Bell Colonial, gaining him a two-year exemption on Tour. In 1990, he finished 16th on the PGA Tour money list, on the strength of three runner-up finishes and two third-places.
Despite his steady career, with wins on four continents, including Asia, Baker-Finch was not generally counted as a member of the elite group of international golfers. When he won the 1991 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, closing with a 64-66 to beat Mike Harwood by two strokes, he was considered a surprise champion. He had three other runner-up finishes that year as well and again qualified for the Tour Championship with a 13th-place finish on the money list. He ranked briefly in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking that year.
His Open Championship victory might have proven the catalyst for him to move to a higher level and start to regularly challenge for prestigious titles, but this was not to be the case. He had a 10-year exemption from the PGA Tour for his Open win, leaving him exempt until 2001. He did achieve a runner-up finish in The Players Championship in 1992, but otherwise never came close to contending on the PGA Tour again.
He picked up wins in Australia in 1992 and 1993 but his form then went into a steep and accelerating decline. He began to lose confidence in his game and tinkered with his swing often. His last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for 10th in the 1994 Masters Tournament.
In 2003, 2005 and 2007, Baker-Finch served as Gary Player’s captain’s assistant for the International team in the Presidents Cup. On 22 June 2000, Baker-Finch was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his golfing achievements. In 2009 Baker-Finch was inducted into the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame.