The Unassuming Champion Returns

By Rex HoggardJuly 14, 2010, 8:30 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Stewart Cink, the man who pulled professional golf into the Twitter age 140 characters at a time, was asked consecutive questions about Tom Watson to open his press conference on Wednesday and suddenly it seemed perfectly apropos to sum up the affable family man’s reign as Open champion in Tweet form: “The man who won Tom Watson’s Open. LOL.”

Twelve months removed from his historic, and in some circles on this side of the pond heartbreaking, victory at Turnberry Cink is still pelted with questions about Watson’s loss, more so than his gutsy victory.

Not that it matters to Cink.

Stewart Cink
Stewart Cink poses with the claret jug and fellow Open champions. (Getty Images)
“Do I feel sorry for (Watson)? No,” Cink said. “He has five claret jugs, I have one.”

It wasn’t a slight or snap, just the clarity of thought that Cink has acquired over the last 12 months. Or is it 37 years?

At Watson’s request, the two played a practice round on Tuesday and it’s worth mentioning that the subject of Turnberry never came up. If the golf world still views Cink as something of a spoiler it’s a testament to Watson that he considers his Turnberry overtime partner as simply a worthy champion.

“He’s thinking the right way from a strategy standpoint and he may be flying in under the radar,” Watson said.

“Under the radar” seems to sum up Cink’s claret jug year perfectly.

In fact, Cink arrives at St. Andrews in a remarkably similar spot to when he arrived at Turnberry, at least competitively. He’s fresh from ties for 22nd at Colonial and eighth at the Memorial, just like in ’09, with a warming putter and building confidence and, despite his status as the newest member of the Open champions’ club, something of an afterthought.

“It’s very similar to last year when boom, Turnberry,” Cink said. “This year I’d like to say boom, St. Andrews.”

Cink married young, had his first child when most of his team mates at Georgia Tech had more interest in frat parties than midnight feedings and inched his way to Open champion slowly but honestly.

Even now, major title firmly etched next to his name, Cink is something of a supporting actor in the theater that is marquee names like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. If life was a Hollywood script, Cink would be golfer No. 6, and he couldn’t care less.

“I’m not going to be Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. Those guys are the best ever that have played,” Cink said. “But am I worthy to be on the claret jug? Yes, because I played as well as I played for 72 holes last year.”

On a tee sheet filled with “me first” athletes, Cink is the exception – humble and unassuming with a sneaky quiet confidence.

And on one windswept afternoon on the west coast of Scotland he was better than all of them, even the fairytale that was Tom Watson last year.

What’s often lost in the tumultuous Turnberry finish was Cink’s Tiger-esque finish. Fifteen feet, downhill, left to right, and the putt that would ultimately force a playoff with Watson never left the line. At the time the gallery didn’t fully grasp the significance of the putt, but Cink did.

“Every time I’ve had a 15-foot putt I’ve revisited that, whether it’s been for eagle or bogey,” Cink said of his birdie at the 72nd hole last year. “I haven’t had a chance to use it yet coming down the stretch, but hopefully I’m getting closer.”

Thursday will be July 15 at St. Andrews for Cink, not the 150th year of the Open Championship and the beginning of a title defense few outside Duluth, Ga., give him much chance of pulling off.

The simple psychological tenet removes the expectations of now and the pressures that come when a lifetime of effort manifest itself in a single 15-footer. It is, in large part, what delivered the multi-use claret jug last year, and will likely decide whether Cink will be able to contend at St. Andrews.

“Last year it was holes five, six, 17 and 18 at Turnberry, not a playoff to win his first major or beat Tom Watson,” said Dr. Morris Pickens, Cink’s sports psychologist. “It will be interesting if he can come out and play St. Andrews instead of playing as the defending champion.”

That shouldn’t be a problem, at least not for the cellophane man of major championships. Outside of Tuesday’s champions’ dinner – where he returned the claret jug which served as a dispenser of his beloved Guiness, Coke, wine and even BBQ sauce during his reign – Cink has largely been the invisible defending champion. It has been rare anonymity for a player who is much more at ease on a Georgia lake than he is in the spotlight.

But it’s not as though he has been a complete afterthought.

During his now-traditional Open Championship tune-up in Ireland, Cink and his family spent a few days in Dublin. One afternoon the reluctant overseas driver made what he thought was a traffic gaffe pulling out of his hotel.

“A taxi (driver) laid on the horn, and I just knew I had done something wrong and I immediately got embarrassed,” Cink laughed. “I looked at the driver and he was pointing at me, ‘Good luck, good luck,’ he was yelling. I went from being embarrassed to being honored.”

And in four days he could go from being something of an afterthought to an unquestionably dominant player who no longer has to answer Tom Watson questions.
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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.