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Baird's bag carries image of missing Ohio teen
by Bucky Albers

DUBLIN, Ohio -- If you watch the Memorial Tournament in person or on television this week, check out the golf bag of PGA Tour player Briny Baird. It has a digital image of missing Kettering, Ohio, teenager Erica Baker on it.

At every tournament he enters, Baird will place the digital photo of a local missing child on his golf bag along with the phone number (1-800-THE-LOST) people can call if they recognize the child or have any valuable information.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children selected Baker as this week's featured child because of the proximity of her home to the Muirfield Village Golf Club, site of the Memorial Tournament.

Erica's grandmother, Pamela Schmidt, said the family has been informed that her image will be on Baird's bag. She said Erica's father, Greg Baker, has been supplied with tickets and may attend the tournament.

"It's neat. It sure is," Schmidt said.

Baker was 9 years old on Feb. 7, 1999, when she was last seen leaving her home at 3 p.m. to walk her dog. The dog was found, but Erica has not been seen. Her 14th birthday is coming up in June.

Canon USA, which has sponsored Baird since 1999, has a project called Canon4Kids, which seeks to locate missing children across America. Early this year the company approached Baird about putting the photos on his bag.

"I was a little skeptical about the idea at first," Baird said Wednesday. "I'd never seen anybody do something like this on the Tour. I was worried that people might think I was exploiting children for my own financial gain. I wasn't sure how people would receive it. I talked to a few prominent people who are friends of mine. They said one of two things -- 'The heck with people who think you might be doing it for other reasons,' or they said 'I don't think people will look at it that way.' "

Baird had a large clear plastic pocket attached to his bag for The Heritage tournament at Hilton Head Island, S.C., in April and has displayed a missing child's image in every Tour appearance since.

"It's a great thing," Baird said. "There are more than 800,000 missing kids a year, which is over 2,000 a day. That's a pretty big crisis in our country. They found another way to get some publicity for it."

Lest anyone get the idea that he benefits financially from it, Baird said he doesn't receive a dime.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children does benefit.

"Canon is donating $100 for every birdie I make and $250 for every eagle," Baird said. "That started at the beginning of the year."

Baird is doing his part in the fund-raising by having a good year. He stands 29th on the money list and ranks first in ball-striking (combination of greens in regulation and total driving). Having already bagged 213 birdies and six eagles, he has generated $22,800 for the cause.

Baird said he hasn't met any of the five families whose missing children have been displayed on his golf bag, but he has spoken to one family on the telephone and received letters from two others. He says the galleries have noticed the pictures.

"Not a day goes by without someone saying something about it," he said.

Baird, son of Champions Tour player Butch Baird, is making his second appearance in the Memorial, and he has a new addition to his cheering section. Baird and his wife, Laura, have an 11-week-old daughter, Madison, who toured nine holes of the Memorial course in her baby carriage Tuesday.

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