Life of Briny: Golf's richest runner-up

    Story highlights

    • American Briny Baird has won over $12 million in prize money since turning pro
    • Baird has been professional since 1995 and has played in 348 career events
    • Although never winning a tournament, Baird has finished second five times
    • The 39-year-old is ranked in 87th position in the all-time PGA Tour money list
    Like two heavyweight boxers slugging it out over 12 rounds, Briny Baird and Bryce Molder stood toe-to-toe.
    With darkness descending, the pair traded blows for a remarkable two hours before Molder, at 31 eight years Baird's junior, triumphed in the longest and most dramatic golfing playoff of 2011.
    In the end, Molder's six-foot birdie putt on the sixth extra hole of October's Open in California proved enough to snatch victory and ensured that Baird's 348th PGA Tour event would go the same way as the previous 347.
    When CNN contacted Baird we expected to find a man down on his fortunes, ruing another missed opportunity to finally claim the first Tour victory of his career.
    Yet nothing could have been further from the truth.
    The 39-year-old Florida native was out fishing, relaxing on his 22-foot Pathfinder boat in a bay off Stuart on the Atlantic coast, about 90 minutes north of Miami.
    And he already had his dinner plans taken care of for the evening.
    "I've caught two speckled trout and one red fish," he told me enthusiastically. "I am going to a friend's house later, where we will clean them up and have them for dinner. I only really play golf so I can support my fishing!"
    If that really is the case, then Baird's fishing hobby has been pretty well supported over the years, to the tune of $12,460,542 to be precise, and his latest heartbreaking near-miss added another $540,000 to the coffers.
    That impressive prize fund puts him in 87th position on the all-time PGA Tour money list, ahead of such luminaries and major winners as Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, John Daly, Craig Stadler and the legendary Tom Watson, to name just a few.
    "I would rather be the guy who has won the most money without a victory than the guy who has won the least money! A stat is only as bad as you want it to be," said Baird.
    "If you are going to do something for a living that you love to do, and you are financially rewarded for doing it, that is a complete bonus. On the flip side, the negative is true and I cannot deny it. I am not out there trying 'not to win.' Not winning is not something I relish."
    Golfing is in Michael Jancey Baird's blood -- his nickname comes from a character in Herman Wouk's novel "The Winds of War," which his mother was reading when Briny was a young boy.
    The son of professional Butch Baird, the young Briny was introduced to the sport at a very early age.
    "My dad being a golfer was a big part of my life growing up. It gave me an insight into how you should go about playing golf and he was a good player -- winning twice on the PGA Tour.
    "He was completely hands on -- my golf swing was made by my father -- but my parents went through a really bad divorce when I was 18 and I and haven't spoken to my dad for eight years.
    "From three to 18, everything I learned, 100%, was from my dad. The next 20 years, nothing through him."
    Baird pauses for a moment, before continuing: "People are disbelieving when I tell them, but for me it is a non-issue.
    "I think people find it more shocking because we both have the same careers -- they don't relate to it as life, just golf. My dad and I don't speak because of life, not because of golf."
    Baird's early college years were spent in exalted golfing company at Georgia Tech. "I was in the same golf team as David Duval and Stewart Cink (both winners of the British Open).
    "We had a great time and are all still firm friends now, but out of school I didn't enjoy it as much, so I left for Division Two school Valdosta State, where I had a blast ... and met my wife!"
    Despite becoming a millionaire from playing the sport he loves, Baird has also experienced the downside of being a professional. He lost his PGA Tour card in 2004, agonizingly finishing one place outside the top 125 players that are invited back, while last year he again just missed out, finishing 127th.
    That meant he was playing on a limited schedule this year, although his second place in California ensures no such worries for 2012.
    "Having to play in the qualifying school sucks, it is not fun at all," says Baird.
    "You are playing for your job for the entire year and possibly for your entire career -- it is more pressure than any other tournament. A guy can miss a putt on the 18th hole and not have a tour card as a result. It's very hard."
    Perhaps the phrase is overused, but Baird is genuinely one of golf's nice guys. We chat away for over half an hour like old friends and nothing seems too much trouble for him, although the feeling remains that finishing second for a fifth time in his career, and in such dramatic circumstances, will leave an indelible mark on Baird.
    But his mood is upbeat, positive and determined. Briny Baird is convinced he will win a tournament one day.
    "Look, I am not going to lie to you, it was a massive disappointment to lose that playoff. I honestly felt I was going to win the tournament. I know I can win on tour. In fact, I know I can win more than once on tour," he says.
    "I walked away thinking I had done things I hadn't done before. I played to win and in my mind I knew I was going to win.
    "I felt in control and played really good coming down the stretch. I don't know how many times I have done that, for me that was a big hurdle to overcome."
    If self belief was a golf tournament, Briny Baird would be a multiple winner, and his latest narrow defeat will not dent his confidence or dilute his desire to secure that elusive first victory.
    Golf's richest runner-up is determined to reel in that big prize soon, don't be surprised if he hooks his biggest-ever catch in 2012.