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Champ expects more of himself

Cink says he's underachieved

Friday, April 02, 2010

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Lost in what could have been one of the greatest golf stories of all time was one of the nicest golf stories of our time.

British Open champ Stewart Cink said missing a chance to win the 2001 U.S. Open bothered him for years. A botched 2-foot putt kept him out of a playoff. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

For many fans, Stewart Cink was grudgingly accepted as the man who beat Tom Watson at the British Open. He was even vilified by some for "ruining" Watson's bid to become the oldest major champion.

Cink accepts that assessment as "spoiler." He accepted it before he hoisted the claret jug at Turnberry, which he won over a nearly 60-year-old man playing on a new hip.

"Even when it happened, as the playoff was unfolding, I was completely aware that that's the way it was going to be and there were no surprises or problems with that," Cink said.

"With Watson and I, it was way heavily favored to him because of the sentimental value. I completely understand everybody's thoughts in that way. I heard a lot of remarks about it, and 99.9 percent of them have been in jest, like 'Why did you have to do that to the old guy?' But everybody in the end was proud of Watson for the way he played and proud of me for the way I played."

REGARDED AS ONE of the nicest and most approachable golfers in the world, the Georgia Tech grad is never shy about sharing honest assessments about himself and the game he plays. So it comes as no surprise that Cink admits that finally becoming a major champion at age 36 doesn't entirely fill in all of the perceived missing pieces of his portfolio.

"It certainly increased my satisfaction with my career," he said. "But I still consider myself an underachiever. Winning the British was enormous for me, as it would be for anybody. But it still took me from five to six wins. So I still feel like six wins is a good career, but I still could have done more already. So that's where I come from with the underachiever. But the British Open win does a lot to erase that."

Stewart Cink chips onto the green during the World Golf Championships at Doral. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

Cink was able to do at Turnberry what Kenny Perry was unable to do three months earlier at Augusta National Golf Club -- gain major redemption. Both had suffered agonizing near misses as younger men at majors, which for many years defined them.

At the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, Cink three-putted the 72nd green -- absent-mindedly missing a 2-footer before what he and everyone else thought was the formality of Retief Goosen sinking a 30-incher for victory. When Goosen missed, Cink had to live with not being part of an 18-hole Monday playoff.

"I downplayed it, but it was more than a nagging thing for a couple of years," Cink said. "You know you only have so many opportunities in your career to win a major, and you start to wonder if I am ever going to get another chance to win a major. Over the years I came to grips with that."

When Cink stood over a 12-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole at Turnberry that he knew had to go in to have any chance of winning, he confidently drained it. He pumped his fist as if he already knew what he had accomplished a few groups ahead of Watson.

"When the time came at Turnberry, I never thought about that (U.S. Open) one time -- never crossed my mind," he said. "I'm glad I could live that down, finally. I've forgiven myself for that."

After missing the cut at last year's Masters Tournament, Cink felt like he was in some kind of professional malaise.

Stewart Cink waits on the sixth green during the final round of The Tour Championship. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

"I started the year in a terrible emotional state," he said. "I was not having much fun playing. I was really disgusted with myself and my performance was very lackluster. I was becoming what I feared most -- being irrelevant."

The evidence was everywhere, from not being asked for interviews or used in promotions to missing cuts despite playing fairly well.

"I felt like I was falling into a rank-and-file type position and I didn't feel like I was a rank-and-file type player," he said. "So I wanted to overhaul everything and start fresh."

His midseason makeover included abandoning the belly putter for a conventional model. With the blessing of close friend Zach Johnson, he started working with sports psychologist Maurice Pickens, of Sea Island, Ga., on developing a new practice and preshot routine.

"I was a clean slate," Cink said.

He practiced his putting more in the 12 days leading up to the Colonial in May than he had in years.

"He made the comment that his back was hurting and wondered if he was doing something wrong," Pickens said. "I told him his back was hurting because he hadn't been practicing before, so keep doing it."

Cink didn't expect to see immediate dividends.

"I chalked the rest of 2009 up to being a feedback session," he said. "Then I win the British Open and immediately got great feedback."

He has seemed like a man in full ever since, enjoying his reign as "champion golfer of the year" and publicizing his exploits with the claret jug with his Twitter followers.

"I think the reason it's been so satisfying is the way it ended up happening," Cink said. "I really played well every day. I finished very well. Then I played the playoff as good as I've played four holes in my life. Even if I had not won, that would have been incredibly satisfying, but to do all that and have the reward of everything you strive for to come to fruition, it was a fairy-tale week."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONS

Stewart Cink is the defending British Open Champion.

2009 Stewart Cink

2008 Padraig Harrington

2007 x-Padraig Harrington

2006 Tiger Woods

2005 Tiger Woods

2004 x-Todd Hamilton

2003 Ben Curtis

2002 x-Ernie Els

2001 David Duval

2000 Tiger Woods

1999 x-Paul Lawrie

1998 x-Mark O'Meara

1997 Justin Leonard

1996 Tom Lehman

1995 x-John Daly

1994 Nick Price

1993 Greg Norman

1992 Nick Faldo

1991 Ian Baker-Finch

1990 Nick Faldo

1989 x-Mark Calcavecchia

1988 Seve Ballesteros

1987 Nick Faldo

1986 Greg Norman

1985 Sandy Lyle

1984 Seve Ballesteros

1983 Tom Watson

1982 Tom Watson

1981 Bill Rogers

1980 Tom Watson

1979 Seve Ballesteros

1978 Jack Nicklaus

1977 Tom Watson

1976 Johnny Miller

1975 x-Tom Watson

1974 Gary Player

1973 Tom Weiskopf

1972 Lee Trevino

1971 Lee Trevino

1970 x-Jack Nicklaus

1969 Tony Jacklin

1968 Gary Player

1967 Roberto De Vicenzo

1966 Jack Nicklaus

1965 Peter Thomson

1964 Tony Lema

1963 x-Bob Charles

1962 Arnold Palmer

1961 Arnold Palmer

1960 Kel Nagle

1959 Gary Player

1958 x-Peter Thomson

1957 Bobby Locke

1956 Peter Thomson

1955 Peter Thomson

1954 Peter Thomson

1953 Ben Hogan

1952 Bobby Locke

1951 Max Faulkner

1950 Bobby Locke

1949 x-Bobby Locke

1948 Henry Cotton

1947 Fred Daly

1946 Sam Snead

1940-45 No tournament *

1939 Richard Burton

1938 R.A. Whitcombe

1937 Henry Cotton

1936 Alfred Padgham

1935 Alfred Perry

1934 Henry Cotton

1933 x-Denny Shute

1932 Gene Sarazen

1931 Tommy Armour

1930 Bobby Jones

1929 Walter Hagen

1928 Walter Hagen

1927 Bobby Jones

1926 Bobby Jones

1925 James M. Barnes

1924 Walter Hagen

1923 Arthur G. Havers

1922 Walter Hagen

1921 x-Jock Hutchison

1920 George Duncan

1915-19 No tournament **

1914 Harry Vardon

1913 John H. Taylor

1912 Edward Ray

1911 x-Harry Vardon

1910 James Braid

1909 John H. Taylor

1908 James Braid

1907 Arnaud Massy

1906 James Braid

1905 James Braid

1904 Jack White

1903 Harry Vardon

1902 Alexander Herd

1901 James Braid

1900 John H. Taylor

1899 Harry Vardon

1898 Harry Vardon

1897 Harold H. Hilton

1896 x-Harry Vardon

1895 John H. Taylor

1894 John H. Taylor

1893 William Auchterlonie

1892 Harold H. Hilton

1891 Hugh Kirkaldy

1890 John Ball Jr.

1889 x-Willie Park Jr.

1888 Jack Burns

1887 Willie Park Jr.

1886 David Brown

1885 Bob Martin

1884 Jack Simpson

1883 x-Willie Fernie

1882 Robert Ferguson

1881 Robert Ferguson

1880 Robert Ferguson

1879 Jamie Anderson

1878 Jamie Anderson

1877 Jamie Anderson

1876 Bob Martin

1875 Willie Park

1874 Mungo Park

1873 Tom Kidd

1872 Tom Morris Jr.

1871 No tournament

1870 Tom Morris Jr.

1869 Tom Morris Jr.

1868 Tom Morris Jr.

1867 Tom Morris Sr.

1866 Willie Park

1865 Andrew Strath

1864 Tom Morris Sr.

1863 Willie Park

1862 Tom Morris Sr.

1861 Tom Morris Sr.

1860 Willie Park

x-won in a playoff

* World War II; ** World War I

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