For the Americantouring pro the British Open is both a business trip that can forever alter acareer and a fun-filled safari to an exotic land. Adapting to the vagaries oflinks golf might be the easiest part of the adventure for these innocentsabroad. On July 8 Stewart Cink was to leave his home in Duluth, Ga., to begin acircuitous journey to the Open along with his wife (and high schoolsweetheart), Lisa, and their sons, Connor, 15, and Reagan, 12. As the Cinkswere packing up, it was discovered that the boys' passports had expired. So onJuly 9 the entire clan made a side trip to Washington for an emergency visit tothe passport agency, and from D.C. they flew on to Dublin, arriving a day laterthan planned. In 11 previous British Opens, Cink had fared better than 14thonly once; that was a tie for sixth in 2007, when he spent the preceding weekplaying golf with his buddies on the eastern coast of Ireland. Hoping to onceagain get some extra prep time on the linksland, Cink and his sons toured thesacred earth of Lahinch and Ballybunion and took two spins around Doonbeg.(Lisa, a natural athlete and an accomplished tennis player, had planned to playwith them but changed her mind when she saw the small crowd of onlookers thatgreeted her husband at every course.) "I think there is a correlation,"the 36-year-old Cink said of the preparation that preceded his victory at the138th British Open. "And I think next year I will be going to play linksgolf before the Open again."
Cink's newpretournament ritual is a reminder that the Open tests not only every aspect ofa player's game but also his ability to adapt—to the firm turf, slower greens,ever-changing weather conditions, to long flights and jet lag, unfamiliar food,warm beer and a host of other inconveniences and irritations. Getting properrest is in many ways the most important adjustment. In addition to all thegolf, the Cinks also did plenty of sightseeing in Ireland, including a visit tothe Cliffs of Moher. "Anything to be outside and stay awake," saysLisa. For Americans the trip to the Open almost always begins with a red-eyeflight, but the seasoned traveler knows that "taking a nap over here isdeadly," according to Mark Calcavecchia, who in 1989 took home the claretjug. Too bad nobody told poor Steve Marino, the affable young Tour pro who inhis first Open began 67--68 and was tied for the lead before fading to 38th onthe weekend. Perhaps scrambled biorhythms were a factor—on his first day atTurnberry, Marino lay down to catch a few winks and awakened six hours later,messing himself up for the better part of a week. Some cagey veterans turn tosleeping aids. Tom Lehman, the 1996 champion, is partial to Tylenol PM. Lastweek Calcavecchia preferred a local beer, St Mungo. "I'm allowing myselffour [per night]. It's just enough, but it's not too many," said Calc, wholast week hung around the leader board for the opening two rounds beforefinishing 27th.
Cink had littletrouble sleeping upon arriving in Turnberry. In fact, he was feeling ill formost of the week, and on the day of the first round began taking antibioticsfor a possible sinus infection. This Open happened to coincide with a swine flupanic in Great Britain, and Cink, who holds a management degree from GeorgiaTech, is one of the rare Tour players who reads more than the sports section.So on the morning of the third round he went to the on-site medics and asked tobe tested for the H1N1 virus. The docs shooed him away, but Lisa took it moreseriously; after Stewart tweeted about his swine flu hunch, she made him removethe post. "We don't want to get quarantined here in Scotland!" shesaid.
Cink picked upthe narrative following his crucial third-round 71; he had played the frontnine in two over par and then rallied for a 34 on the back to put himself in atie for sixth, three strokes off Tom Watson's lead. "I feel fine when I'mout there on the course," Cink said, and with a smile he revealed thesecret formula he was counting on to help him survive the rigors of the finalround: "More coffee, more drugs. I'll be as high as a kite!"
July 26, 2009
The stimulantsmay have helped, but Cink's victory really was the result of his always solidball striking and adjustments to his putting, both mental and physical. In hisfirst 11 events of the 2009 season Cink missed the cut three times and finishedbetter than 24th only once. He was so fed up after a 77 at the PlayersChampionship that he discarded his longtime crutch—a belly putter—and went backto a standard-length wand. More important, he overhauled his mental approach,again, committing to a new preputt routine that "I could lean on underpressure," he says. Cink is a cerebral type who for years has undergonepsychoanalysis, focusing on self-esteem issues that may or may not have beenexacerbated by the 18-inch bogey putt he missed on the 72nd hole of the 2001U.S. Open that ultimately cost him a place in the Retief Goosen--Mark Brooksplayoff. He survived a case of the yips in '02 but remains a perennial work inprogress, employing a second psychoanalyst to help with the more prosaicdetails of his golf game.
After his victoryCink was asked to name a key shot, and he chose an interesting one—a missedtwo-footer on the 7th hole on Saturday. "I didn't let it get to me," hesaid proudly. Expanding on the mental grind of links golf, Cink said, "Itrequires patience. You hit good shots that don't end up good. Or bad shots thatend up really bad. You have to be prepared for that."
That ultimatelymay be what separated Cink from everyone else: he refused to give in toTurnberry's quirkiness and the trying gales of the final three rounds. J.B.Holmes was one of the stories of the first round, birdieing 15, 16 and 17 toshoot a 68. His scores got worse every day, and by the final round he was up to80. "When the bounces are going your way, it's fun," said Holmes."When they're not, it drives you crazy, like [it does] everybody else."Except Cink, he might have added. Calcavecchia was four under through the firsttwo rounds and eight over on the weekend, but he blamed it all on forces beyondhis control. "I played about the same all four days," he said onSunday. "For the first two rounds every bounce went my way. The last twodays my luck turned. I hardly hit a bunker Thursday or Friday, and three timestoday I had a ball in there and couldn't even take a stance. Tell you what—I'mready to get the hell out of here."
The Cinks weresupposed to begin their journey home on Sunday night, but before the champion'spress conference Stewart was overheard plotting to spend an extra night at theTurnberry Hotel, the better to savor victory's afterglow. Virtually all theplayers stayed at the stately old hotel that is perched on a hill overlookingthe links. Its in-house pub, bearing the name Duel in the Sun, was a nightlygathering spot. "There was great camaraderie hanging out with all theguys," said Boo Weekley, who played four solid rounds en route to finishing13th. "At home you never see nobody, except at the golf course. I was in[the pub] every night. That was the good part. The bad part was having to eatthe same food over and over."
On the grounds ofthe hotel is a wonderful little pitch-and-putt, and that, too, was a place forthe players and their families to unwind. Cink's boys, both tall and smart anda little shy like their parents, played the course a couple of times duringtournament week. On Saturday evening Briny Baird and 2004 British Open champTodd Hamilton enjoyed a spirited match, while nearby Butch Harmon wasoverseeing a rowdy skins game involving Rory McIlroy and a handful of friendsand caddies, each playing multiple balls and employing old-fashioned stymies onthe greens, which meant that instead of the balls being marked they were leftin place as obstacles, leading to some billiards-style combos and very loudtrash talk. It's these little moments that make Open week different andmemorable.
What nobody looksforward to is the trip home. The departure of the Lehman family wasparticularly thorny. Tom and his wife, Melissa, had brought over all four oftheir kids. From Turnberry, Tom was traveling to this week's Senior BritishOpen at Sunningdale, but Melissa was responsible for getting the brood home, anarduous series of connections from Glasgow to Amsterdam to Minneapolis to SanDiego. Following the final round Melissa had to inform her daughters, Holly andRachael, and elder son Thomas—ages 13 to 19—that they were in steerage whileshe and their little brother, six-year-old Sean, would be flying first class.After some protestations Melissa said, "I'm not buying six first-classtickets." After a little more whining she rolled her eyes and said to anamused onlooker, "They're teenagers; they'll be fine. When I was a teenagerI never got to go to Europe."
Eliminating someof the travel hassles were Weekley, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Davis Love III anda few other players and their various wives and caddies, who on Sunday nighthopped on a chartered Airbus to take them directly to Brunswick, Ga. That's aconvenient port of call for the Cinks, but in advance of the tournament theypassed on the invitation. "It was too much," says Lisa, though it's notclear if she was referring to the money or the thought of such close quarterswith so many colleagues. It's probably just as well. The British Open week maybe a fun communal experience, but you can be sure no group of players wouldhave enjoyed spending a long flight over the Atlantic having to stare at Cink'svery shiny new carry-on.
The British Openwas Tiger Woods's 55th major (amateur and pro), while the 1973 British was JackNicklaus's 55th. Here's how the two players with the most major victories matchup at this point in their careers.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
|6 (Masters 1959, '67; U.S. '57, '59, '63; PGA'68)||MC||4 (Masters 1996; U.S. '95 WD, '06; British '09)|
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"At home you never see nobody, except at thecourse," said Weekley. "I was in [the pub] every night."
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