On Colleges, On Golf
10:34 PM EDT, August 17, 2013
Ryan Baker put one in the pond on the 168-yard 11th hole at Conway Farms. Then another. And a third.
By now, most golfers would have broken a club over a knee or sought refuge at the nearest beer hut.
Not Baker. The lead sports anchor for WBBM-Ch. 2 remained relaxed, made a "Tin Cup" joke and heard the voice of his mother: Slow down.
"This game teaches you to be patient," Baker said.
He went to the drop area — still a dicey 120-yard shot to a smallish green — and made par on his fourth ball.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if not for determination," he said. "Persistence, patience and showing up on time will get you far."
It also helps to be articulate, friendly and outgoing. And Baker is flush with sports and media connections in Chicago.
He grew up just outside the city limit in Phoenix, which he describes as a "speed trap between Harvey and South Holland." His neighbor was Quinn Buckner, who let him hold the Olympic gold medal he won in 1976.
While in high school, Baker met Jim Rose, shadowed Dan Roan and bonded with Warner Saunders, then a sportscaster at WMAQ-Ch. 5.
As a basketball manager at Illinois, Baker worked with current Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips and developed lifelong bonds with future broadcasters Kendall Gill and Stephen Bardo.
Baker's Titleist had a "33" stamp, but that doesn't mean he's tied in with Scottie Pippen.
"No, I didn't get that tip for him," Baker said.
Speaking of the Bulls, Baker was not shy about speaking his mind regarding Derrick Rose, who teased NBA fans while rehabbing from ACL surgery.
"That was a Reggie (Rose) and Bulls production," Baker said. "That decision (not to play him) was made six months earlier. They trotted him out before every game just to sell shoes."
Baker was hot about that but remained remarkably chill while losing several sleeves of golf balls on a scorching mid-July day. Even with the heat index in triple digits, we walked at Conway Farms, which will host the PGA Tour's BMW Championship next month.
Conway Farms stays so true to the traditions of the game — walking and taking a caddie — that President Dave McDonough said the club averages only one "cart round" a week.
"If you're 60 years old with a doctor's note, we will consider it," McDonough said.
Baker wore apricot-colored linen pants, explaining: "Linen breathes, so they actually feel nice. Plus I figured that if you had a photographer here, I'd at least want to look good."
And he said of his orange-and-white-striped shirt: "When you're sexual chocolate, you've got to pop a color. Orange just works."
By the turn, we all had more sweat stains than pars.
Baker didn't begin playing golf until after college. A nine-year stint in Orlando, Fla., during which he covered PGA Tour events at Bay Hill and Disney World, piqued his interest.
He has not found the time to take the $500 worth of lessons wife Jessa purchased for him at East Bank Club, but he does make semi-regular treks to South Shore and Jackson Park, where his best score is an 89.
Baker had a tough time at Conway Farms, where he said the rough was like "venus flytrap."
He had a funny line after an errant drive on No. 9: "They put me with the right caddie … Jesus."
Baker said his goal is to become a bogey golfer or better, adding: "I'm still learning the game … as you can see."
Following a shotgun start, we began on the third hole. As we trudged to the green of the home hole, we decided 16 holes followed by a half-dozen cold drinks sounded way better than a full 18.
I mentally checked out around the time I saw a dead frog lying on its back. But Baker kept grinding and was rewarded on the 18th green. He drained a putt of 35 feet (nah, 50 sounds better) that found the cup after what he described as a "Barney Rubble bounce."
Arms raised, Baker declared: "That's it. I'm good."
16 holes with … Ryan Baker
Five-second bio: Living his dream as a sportscaster in his hometown. Joined WBBM-Ch. 2 in 2008 after five years at WMAQ-Ch. 5.
Where: Conway Farms, Lake Forest (green tees: 6,853 yards).
Event: BMW Championship media day.
Baker's handicap: Well …
What he shot: Suffice to say, over par.
Baker on golf: "It's fulfilling, fun and frustrating."
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