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Out Of The Picture After years of pain and frustration, Briny Baird still can't understand why his father, fellow pro Butch Baird, dropped out of his life

June 21, 2004
June 21, 2004

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June 21, 2004

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Out Of The Picture After years of pain and frustration, Briny Baird still can't understand why his father, fellow pro Butch Baird, dropped out of his life

For a long time a subtle bit of deception was part of Briny
Baird's postround routine. Whenever he shot a good number, he'd
step before reporters and furnish the usual answers to the usual
questions. One query would always be, So, Briny, about your dad.
What was it like growing up the son of a Tour player? ¶ "Taught
me everything I know," Baird would say of his father, Butch.
"Wasn't really around much being on Tour and all. Yeah, I'm sure
he's proud." ¶ And it was all true--sort of. There were no lies,
but there were significant omissions. Last year, in fits and
starts, Baird began to let on that all was not right between
him and his dad. Finally, there was this exchange: So, Briny,
about your dad....

This is an article from the June 21, 2004 issue

"I don't speak to him."

(Blank look.)

"I literally do not speak to my dad. No matter what you want to
ask, that's your answer. My parents went through a nasty divorce,
and I don't speak to him."

It's hard to say why the mask dropped. Perhaps it was the
accretion of hundreds of such questions, like so much water
bowing a dam until it bursts. Baird can hardly step on a course,
he says, without some old acquaintance of his 67-year-old father
saying, "Say hi to your dad for me" or "When you talk to your
dad, give him my best."

"It's a daily, I mean daily, occurrence," Baird says. "It's
pretty tough."

The admission was also prompted, to some extent, by a feeling of
inevitability that the truth was bound to come out as Baird's
game moved him more frequently into the spotlight. A slow but
steady improver, the five-year Tour pro came into his own in
2003, finishing 22nd on the money list with seven top 10
finishes. This year he has missed the cut only four times in 17
starts and has moved to 66th in the World Ranking. "If he's not
the best player out here who hasn't won yet, I don't know who
is," says lifelong friend and fellow Tour player Dudley Hart.

Briny cites his parents' divorce, which was made final in 1993,
as the root cause of the rift with his father, but their
estrangement revolves around that most banal of objects, the
telephone. After the divorce Butch moved from Miami to Phoenix.
He was also playing in 30 events a year on the Champions tour. At
the time Briny was finishing college at Valdosta (Ga.) State,
where he was the NCAA Division II individual champion in 1994 and
'95. By Briny's account Butch called him only once or twice a
year back then. Calls came even less frequently after Briny
graduated, settled in Palm Beach to begin playing the Florida
mini-tours and eventually met his wife, Laura, whom he married in
1999. "I'd keep calling and calling him, but nothing happened,"
Briny says. "A year would go by, and he'd finally call back, and
every time we'd have the same conversation. I'd say, 'You need to
call me more.' He'd say, 'You're right.' But the same thing kept
happening, over and over, for the next four or five years."

Briny's frustration with Butch became more acute when he had his
first few successes on the PGA Tour, notably his near wins at the
2001 John Deere Classic and the '02 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Butch, having had his own share of close calls on the way up, was
uniquely suited to advise his son and offer him comfort. But
those occasions passed without a call. When the phone did ring,
Briny, at the other end, was growing increasingly hostile. "I'd
confront him, and say, 'Why the f---is it so hard for you to call
your son?'"

Briny's anger came to a head five months ago at the FBR Open in
Phoenix, when Butch and his wife, Pam, showed up unexpectedly in
Briny's gallery during the final round. Briny spotted them after
teeing off on the 10th hole. "Thirty yards off the tee the first
two people I see are him and his wife," says Briny. "You can't
imagine the feeling of anger, of shock, like, Why would you come
here, out of the blue, when we haven't spoken in a year, and
simply show up in the middle of my round?" Briny tried to ignore
them, but by the next hole he was thoroughly shaken. "I could
hardly look down and see my golf ball. Everything became a blur."
He finally had his caddie ask Butch and Pam to leave.

There's no telling how Briny's relationship with Butch has
affected his development as a golfer, just as there is no
explaining why Butch apparently does not want to be a part of his
son's life. (It seems somehow related, given their rift, that
Briny is known on Tour for his work with the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children--he affixes a photo of a local
missing child to his golf bag at every Tour event. But he insists
that it has nothing to do with his problems with his father.)

Briny's childhood, by all accounts, was idyllic. His mother,
Jackie, was born in Hove, England. She and her twin sister,
Gillian, were a song-and-dance team and performed in theaters and
supper clubs around the world. She met Butch at the 1968 Panama
Open. They wed in 1970 and settled in Miami, in a house on North
Bay Island off the Kennedy Causeway.

Although still performing, the sisters were already proprietors
of a thriving Miami Beach boutique called the Bikini Shop and an
equally successful manufacturing business, The Twins. Years later
Jackie would be celebrated on To Tell the Truth as the woman who
introduced the U.S. to the string bikini. "We had some bras we
brought over from France," Jackie says, laughing, "and made the
sides of the pants narrower and narrower until they looked like
spaghetti."

Through the years she was the household's principal breadwinner:
In 27 seasons on the regular Tour, Butch won only $329,789. The
couple had two children--Briny, now 32, and a daughter, Julie,
33--and adopted two more, 29-year-old Manoj, who was born in
India, and Yanine, 30, who was from South Korea. Jackie's
creativity made their home a lively place. For the bicentennial
she dressed her children in Colonial fife-and-drum outfits.
(Jackie wore a black armband.) That same year she painted images
representing the nationalities of her children on the four fire
hydrants on their block.

Briny's best friend growing up was Dudley Hart, whose father,
Chuck, was the head pro at Miami Beach's La Gorce Country Club,
where Butch played most of his nontournament golf. During the
summer the boys ran up jaw-dropping breakfast bills at La Gorce
("at least until our parents caught on," says Hart) and played
golf all afternoon. Dudley, four years Briny's senior, was the
older brother Briny never had. "He'd beat me until I cried,"
Briny says, "but five minutes later I was coming back for more."

Butch led a nomadic life--first on the PGA Tour and later the
Champions tour. When he was around, father and son were
inseparable. "You couldn't have been closer with a father," Briny
says. "We joked around and laughed all the time." And yes, Briny
learned everything he knows about the game from his father. "He'd
take my hands," Briny says, "and put them in certain positions
and say, 'The club goes here and then here.' There have been some
changes, but basically that's still my swing."

Today Butch is in the twilight of his career. In the last two
years he has played in only four events. He calls himself a
journeyman--even though he won twice on the regular Tour and
twice on the Champions tour and had wins as well in a dozen
international and nonsanctioned events--because he has struggled
with low self-esteem.

At the time he met Jackie, Butch stuttered so badly he could
barely pronounce her name. "He would get hung up on J-J-Jackie,"
she says. "His daughter from his first marriage is named Jayne,
and he would get hung up on that too. And, of course, we named
our first daughter Julie." Predictably, Butch's peers on Tour
constantly needled him. Several players, he says, relished asking
him what he shot after a good round. "I could never tell them
because I couldn't get past the word sixty."

Butch speaks slowly and deliberately these days and never
stumbles on a word, yet he refuses to believe he has conquered
the problem. "I still haven't overcome it," he says. "I still do
drills. I'm working on it right now, speaking to you, making sure
I'm breathing the right way to make it easier to talk."

Butch's stuttering is one reason so many people ask Briny about
him. "When I've been with [Butch] at tournaments, the people who
come up to him are the people who stutter," says Pam, who married
Butch in 2001. "Year after year they come out to find him, to
tell him about the progress they've made."

Butch asked Jackie to stop accompanying him to Tour events in
1991, all but admitting there was another woman. Briny was a
freshman at Georgia Tech at the time, a member of an immensely
talented team that included David Duval, who was a sophomore.

When Briny learned of his parents' troubles, the news had an
immediate impact. He started skipping classes, practices and team
functions. "His golf suffered, and I know it hurt his
schoolwork," says Jimmy Johnston, Briny's roommate at Tech and a
close friend. "Briny took it really hard," says Puggy Blackman,
who was then the coach at Tech. "It was almost as if he wasn't
Briny anymore."

That year was the second in a row that one of Blackman's golfers
was rocked by problems at home. "David Duval went through a very
similar thing when his parents broke up," Blackman says. Duval,
however, stayed at Georgia Tech for four years. Baird dropped out
during his junior year and eventually transferred to Valdosta
State.

Almost all contact between Butch and his children with Jackie
ended at that time. Says Jackie, "I remember saying to Butch,
'Divorce me, but don't divorce the children!' But he left, and he
was gone. It's as if he met Pam and that was the end of everyone
else."

When Butch and Pam wed three years ago, it was a stranger who
told Briny about it. "A course marshal told me he'd gotten
married," Briny says. "I'd never heard about it. Shocking, right?
'Oh, it's great to see your dad got remarried. He looks real
happy.' I'm like, 'He did?' How do you not get told about that?
How do you not get invited?"

A more hurtful slight occurred in March 2003, when Briny and
Laura's daughter, Madison, was born. "It's hard to believe,"
Briny says, "but we never got a congratulations on the baby."
Says Jackie, "Not acknowledging Madison, I think, was the
kicker."

As far as Briny is concerned, the matter is now closed. "This
isn't a friendship; it's a relationship that's pretty emotional,
and it hurts. The easiest way to deal with stuff like this is to
push it away, so I can't get hurt by it anymore."

Ask Butch about the state of his relationship with Briny, Laura
and his granddaughter, and the response is a hard stare. "I don't
want to touch on that," he says. "That's something between us."
He doesn't contradict Briny's account, but counters by saying
simply, "You take what he says as gospel."

Butch, though, will talk forever about Briny's game. He can give
shot-by-shot recaps of his son's televised rounds and still seems
to know Briny's swing better than anyone, describing its
evolution in detail. He is generous in his appraisal of his son's
talents. "He has more ability in every department than I've ever
had," he says. "He also has it mentally--the determination, the
perseverance. He's ready. He could win any week."

When that week comes, Butch won't be there to witness his son's
breakthrough. Whether he'll telephone is anyone's guess. Only one
thing is sure to happen: Briny will be asked about Butch, the
father who is no longer part of his life.

B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF BRINY BAIRD HAPPIER TIMES When he was home from the Tour, Butch (on left, and opposite right) taught his son the same swing that Briny essentially uses today.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: GARY BOGDON (2) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF JACKIE BAIRD WELL SUITED Briny, who helps missing kids, appeared with Jackie (top, second from right), her twin and his siblings in ads.COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH KEEPING TRACK Butch won't discuss his relationship with Briny (top) but can give you chapter and verse on his son's game.COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON [See caption above]

"On the rare occasions when his father would get in touch, Briny
would ask, "WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CALL YOUR SON?"

"BRINY TOOK IT REALLY HARD," Blackman says of the Bairds'
divorce. "It was almost as if he wasn't Briny anymore."