The crowds who will converge on Royal Melbourne have their target; now Ian Baker-Finch has nominated the man to bring them to life.
US team member Patrick Reed’s rules infraction in the Bahamas last week continues to be the hotbed of discussion pushing the Presidents Cup towards a genuine rivalry, American playing captain Tiger Woods once again forced to come to his charge’s defence on Tuesday morning.
Australian representatives Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman were not afraid to fan the flames of heat coming down on Reed after viewing his actions in a waste bunker at the Hero World Challenge during the Australian Open, International captain Ernie Els adding that “obviously they didn’t like what they saw”.
Speaking on the PGA Golf Club podcast, Baker-Finch reiterated earlier statements that Reed should not expect a good reception when the first matches tee off on Thursday morning but said that it was equally important for fans of the International team to have someone to cheer for.
That man, according to Baker-Finch, is Chinese Presidents Cup rookie Haotong Li.
“We have to get our Internationals really geed up and get everyone around them yelling and barracking for them,” said Baker-Finch, a former assistant captain to both Peter Thomson and three times alongside Gary Player.
“The guy that I’ll be looking for to take a bit of a leadership role is Haotong Li from China. He’s a really aggressive young player and I think he will relish this type of atmosphere. He will try and get the crowd geed up.
“A few of the other guys – guys like CT Pan, Adam Hadwin, Joaquin Niemann, Abraham Ancer – they’ll be quiet and just go about doing their job. They are wonderful players and great to watch but I don’t see them being ‘rah rahs’ and trying to get the crowd behind them.
“I want the people out there to really get behind the International team. You may not know many of them that well but they’re all tremendous blokes and they’ll make a great team.”
At Royal Melbourne in an unofficial capacity this week so that he can immerse himself in the full Presidents Cup experience, Baker-Finch expects a mixed response to the American team from local fans.
The raucous band of Fanatics will undoubtedly have something special in store for Reed but the 1991 British Open champion doesn’t expect it to reach the type of fervour that comes out on both sides of the Atlantic during the Ryder Cup.
“I think he’ll be received – and deservedly so – poorly. That’s our 13th man. The Fanatics will be unrelenting,” Baker-Finch added.
“He will handle that well, because he likes to be the victim and he is a tough character in that way but I don’t think the crowds are going to cut him any slack at all.
“As Marc Leishman said, I thought it was pretty ordinary what he did last week and didn’t own up to it. The Aussie fans will let him know that.
“Because the Australian fans are so great, sport-crazy, aficionados of sport and the game, they will be looking forward to seeing their heroes and the stars that they watch every week on TV.
“I’m sure they’ll be clapping the Internationals just that little bit more but they’ll still be clapping the Americans. There won’t be any great Ryder Cup-style, battlefield feel around Royal Melbourne.”