It wasnt very long ago, though, that Cink was uncertain whether he would ever amount to anything in professional golf. He suddenly became aware of his professional inadequacies, something that he just couldnt seem to get out of his mind.
It was 2002 when I was struggling the most, he said of that time only two years ago. He was a Ryder Cup selection in 2001, but the events of 9/11 occurred and the match was postponed. That, unfortunately, gave him an opportunity to look around at whom else had made the Ryder Cup team.
I started comparing myself as a golfer to the other Ryder Cup team players, he said. Not just the current guys, but the ones that were in the past, too, Ryder Cup guys down the line. And I started being really harsh on myself for making mistakes.
For instance, Ryder Cup players don't miss three-footers, don't hit the ball in the rough on par-5s - just really hard on myself. And it changed very gradually over time so it's almost like I didn't notice it.
Cink had finished 26th on the money list in 2001, but his sudden period of self-doubt dropped him all the way down to 73rd the following year. It reached such a state that he finally revealed his fears to his swing coach, Mark Wood.
I sat him down and said, I've got problems. I mean, I'm really worried about where the ball is going to go, and I'm worried about missing putts. I'm scared of leaving myself a three-footer coming back. This obviously was not the same Stewart Cink that presently is No. 1 on the tour in putting.
Wood had an answer. He had an acquaintance in Florida whose specialty was working with self-doubters such as Cink. His name is Preston Waddington, and he had just the fix for Cink. Dont try to be perfect, said Waddington. It isnt possible, and the quicker you discern that, the better golfer you will become.
I've really learned a lot since then, the last few years, about fear in a golfer's mind and where it comes from, said Stewart. And instead of trying to push further out and filling your mind with other thoughts, I've really tried to grasp the fear and figure out why I'm afraid - why is a golfer afraid of a three-footer when it really is just a ball going in a hole or not? It really boils down to sense of self issues.
I was letting my golf results, my scores, my position on the money list, wins, not winning, everything - affect the way I felt about myself. And there's enough burden out here to carry when you've got these guys you're playing against and the golf courses are difficult.
Cink is very open about his sessions with Waddington. Some players would be hush-hush about any kind of psychological help. But not Stewart. Humans are prone to feelings of self-doubt, and Cink was Exhibit 1A. Jack Nicklaus himself said that if a golfer isnt a little scared, then he isnt much of a golfer.
You know, Cink said after winning the NEC Sunday, it's too much to ask of a person to perform under that kind of stress and add all this sense of self on top of it. It's psychoanalyst mumbo jumbo, I guess, but I've really gotten to a place where I'm accepting of my mistakes. Out there today, I was just prepared to accept any of those putts not going in.
Oh, he said, he still has periods of self-doubt. He expects, like Nicklaus, that he will be facing his fears when hes 50. A work in progress, Stewart termed it.
It's sort of the way the golf course unfolds itself different every day, you face new challenges, he said. Well, in my mind I face new challenges every day, too. I love talking about it because I'm proud of myself for admitting that I have issues. And being strong enough to go and tell somebody that I needed help, and I got help and worked hard to deal with it.'
He had in his mind what a champion golfer should look like. And he didnt fit that picture. Actually no one does, but Cink didnt realize it. No one is perfect with every shot, every putt. Its not how good your good shots are, as the saying goes, but how good your bad shots are. Thats where the champions stand out, never being bad enough to make it a hopeless situation.
Every time I took a new step up, said Cink, I started becoming harder on myself. And I gave myself less leeway for mistakes, so I was just killing myself. It was just too much stress to play under.
Cink still gets down on himself at times. He isnt a Vijay or Ernie or a Tiger ' and he never will be. But he still is one of the best players in the world. Hes No. 5 on the tour money list, and that should mean something. He doesnt need a therapist to tell him that that is pretty good.
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