Commentary

After British win, it's same old Cink

Originally Published: August 11, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

CHASKA, Minn. -- A Twitter account with thousands of followers is just one clue, although not a necessary one. Stewart Cink is a good guy, a reputation earned well before a social networking site brought him more accolades.

Cink rarely, if ever, seems in a bad mood. He makes time for spectators and media and seems to enjoy his work. It might even be fair to suggest that his good nature precluded him from having the killer instinct necessary to compete consistently at golf's highest level.

That latter notion took a serious hit recently when the reigning British Open champion revealed a smart bit of gamesmanship that may or may not have affected the outcome at Turnberry.

Before the four-hole aggregate playoff with 59-year-old legend Tom Watson, Cink mysteriously arrived at the tee a few minutes late. He had ducked into a portable restroom, but it turns out the detour had nothing to do with nerves.

"I knew what I was up against with Tom Watson, because with the crowd pulling for him so much, I didn't want to be on the tee standing there when he walked up," Cink said. "I wanted to be the last on the tee, because if anything, I wanted him to hear some applause for me walking up there instead of the other way around. So I didn't really have to go to the restroom, but I decided to go anyway, just take a few extra seconds to go down there and then walk on the tee."

How about that? The nice guy decided to put the old guy on ice, even if only for a few minutes.

And while far more went into Cink's victory than the order in which the players arrived at the tee, the move showed a competitiveness and calmness in Cink that some might have thought did not exist.

Cink heads into this week's PGA Championship at Hazeltine National playing some excellent golf. After the victory at Turnberry came a celebration, a vacation and then some more good golf. He tied for sixth at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, shooting all four rounds in the 60s at Firestone Country Club.

And unlike some of his predecessors who joined the major championship fraternity, Cink knows who he is and where he is going. Sure, he'd like to win another major and more tournaments. But he isn't going to put pressure on himself to do so.

"I think that's what gets players in trouble after the majors when they win," said Cink, 36, who lives outside Atlanta and finished T-10 in the 2002 PGA Championship held at Hazeltine. "They expect more and they think of themselves as a different type of person or a different golfer.

"I'm not really a different player. I won a tournament that I hadn't won before, and I have more confidence now. But the only thing I think that's changed is that when I get in another situation like that or be in contention again, I'll have something concrete to draw from.

"Other than that, I've been out here playing long enough where I don't think it changes me as a person very much."

If anything, Cink is schooled in the way of life and that of a professional golfer. A three-time all-America selection (1993-95) at Georgia Tech, Cink was married while still in college at age 20. After one full year on the Nationwide Tour in which he won three times, he's been on the PGA Tour -- and never finished worse than 73rd on the money list -- since 1997.

But by then Cink and his wife, Lisa, were on their way to having two kids.

His oldest son, Connor, was born while the couple was still going to school and is now 15. Reagan is 12.

"I'm amazed every day," Lisa Cink said. "But it was so good for us. Now I can look back on it with some perspective. Struggling financially, with a child, and the physical aspects and getting where you need to be because of school. That helped a lot, and you appreciate this a lot more. At the time, I just wanted to get through it and get out of it. But it made us probably a lot stronger because if we could get through those type of things, bring it on."

Cink won the Greater Hartford Open and was rookie of the year in 1997, but subsequent victories were sparse. He won again in 2000, twice in 2004 and then not again until last year's Travelers Championship.

But Cink has long been regarded as one of America's strongest players. He's been a member of three U.S. Presidents Cup teams and the past four U.S. Ryder Cup teams.

But there was that haunting finish at the 2001 U.S. Open, where Cink missed a 2-foot putt that -- as it turns out -- would have put him in a playoff with Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks. At the time, Cink thought the putt was meaningless, figuring the first putt he missed cost him that opportunity. It wasn't until Goosen missed a short putt a moment later that Cink realized the enormity of his gaffe.

"That lingered a little bit," Cink said. "It was embarrassing."

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And then there was the lack of victories.

"I always said that I felt like an underachiever, for years and years," Cink said. "I felt like I had a lot of game, that I played well, but never really had the number of wins to show for it that I felt like I had a chance to grab ahold of.

"And now I've won the British Open and that is somewhat lessened to me. I feel like, OK, one major takes care of a whole lot of other losses. I still feel like I have not produced quite the numbers that I would have liked as far as wins, but when you add a major there, it does a lot to erase some of those thoughts."

The victory at Turnberry came along in surprising fashion for Cink. He had somewhat written this year off after a frustrating start that saw him decide to junk the belly putter for a conventional model.

Cink has worked with noted swing instructor Butch Harmon since 2002, and they put in some extra work on the greens after the golfer began consulting Dr. Morris Pickens, a South Carolina-based sports psychologist who also consults with U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover.

"He was working on his putting, but he wasn't as disciplined as he could have been about it," Pickens said. "He was doing more than just hitting putts, but he didn't know what he wanted to do and why. We worked on putting the whole package together. How to practice at the course, on the road, at home. He wasn't working it the way that he could get the most benefit out of it.

"I gave him a two-week, very disciplined regimen. Now he knows what we're doing, and he dictates it more than I do."

The new practice routine made Cink remember the old days, when he was married and tried to get his golf game in shape while going to school. He had to practice smarter then, and he realized he needed to practice smarter now.

"I played some of my best golf between getting married and my rookie year on the tour," Cink said. "Then I settled in out here for a while, and just recently this year I picked up that intense practice again because I wasn't very satisfied with the way I was putting.

"Nothing was really going the way I wanted it to, so I just sort of rededicated myself and I learned some practicing techniques that really helped me bear down hard mentally. And I'm getting a lot out of it."

He sure is. Cink had a calm about him during the final round of the British Open that he has difficulty describing.

And when it came to attempting the birdie putt on the 18th green that would ultimately put him in the playoff with Watson, Cink drew on the lessons of the past few months.

"I even joked with my caddie [Frank Williams] before a little bit. I asked him if it was a good time to abandon the pre-shot routine," Cink said. "He said no, so I stuck with it. And it was a perfect putt right in the middle.

"It was one of those that I'll remember for a long time."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com