Baker hoping to rise to the challenge

07/07/2010 14:21:47
Christopher Baker  (EuropeanTour)
Christopher Baker (EuropeanTour)
As America’s sole representative on the Challenge Tour, Christopher Ryan Baker is a long way from home.

But friendship is rarely hard to find on Tour, and the 24 year old is slowly adjusting to his new life spent traversing Europe, which started when he captured the re-scheduled Moroccan Golf Classic on his first Challenge Tour appearance – and indeed his first golfing foray outside the United States.

Baker owed some of his victory to circumstance and fate – had the ash cloud caused by the Icelandic volcano not caused the postponement of the event, which was originally due to take place in April, the field would have been somewhat stronger and his task made rather harder.    

As it was, Baker – who had already flown with ten of his compatriots from the States to Morocco – used his time wisely, getting to know every blade of grass and contour at Pullman Mazagan Royal Golf and Spa so that when the tournament was eventually played last month, he was a step ahead of most of his fellow competitors.  

Baker took advantage of the absence of some of the Challenge Tour’s leading lights, who were on duty in Saint Omer, to post a winning aggregate total of 13 under par – the same score as Robert Coles, the 2009 champion, and one lower than the 2008 winner Michael Hoey.

Now, with the offer of a one-year exemption on the table, Baker had a decision to make – should he take the easy option to return home to Indiana and continue playing on a third tier Tour in the States, or take the plunge and try to earn a place on The European Tour through the Challenge Tour Rankings?

Boldly, Baker – who sharpened his competitive instincts on the collegiate circuit during his time at Iowa State University – took a step into the unknown and chose the latter. On the back of some encouraging results in the two appearances since his victory, the move appears to have been a shrewd one.       

Baker, who was introduced to the game aged six by his father, said: “We had a bit of a celebration after my win in Morocco, but not too big because I’d already decided I was going to play in the Canary Islands the week after. One of my friends came with me, which was great. But then he went home, and all of a sudden I’m the only American left out here! [Fellow American] Nathan Smith played some tournaments last season and the first event this year, but now he’s back in the States playing on the Nationwide Tour.

“So it’s been a little bit daunting, because I haven’t done any travelling outside America before, and it’s even more difficult when you’re on your own. But I’m starting to get to know a few of the guys, which makes it easier. Joel [Sjöholm] in particular has been a great help. I stayed with him in Sweden last week, and we’re staying at the same place again this week. So I’m starting to feel a bit more comfortable out here now, and besides, when you’re out playing it doesn’t matter where you are – it’s always just you against the golf course.

“I’m going to fly home to Indiana after this week’s event, have a sit down and try to work out my playing Schedule for the next few months. I’m probably going to start with the Rolex Trophy in Geneva then play right through until Russia, and re-evaluate after that. I’m also hoping to play a few European Tour events as a sponsors’ invitation, which would be a great experience. I’d love to get my card for The European Tour next year – that would be awesome.”

From the Tour’s perspective, it is equally awesome to have an American competing full-time in Europe – particularly one as genial as Baker, a keen angler whose sporting heroes are Payne Stewart and Lance Armstrong.

Now comes the hard part for Baker – winning enough ‘dough’ to finish in the top 20 of the Challenge Tour Rankings. We wish him well in his quest.