ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – There was a time when Stewart Cink’s missed 7 footer for par at his final hole on Thursday at the RSM Classic would have left a prolonged mark on what was otherwise a perfect day.
He would have gone to the practice putting green and rolled in 7-footers until dark, and he probably wouldn’t have been the best company for dinner.
He would have let his golf define him.
It’s a common and understandable reaction for PGA Tour players to let the numbers on the scorecard dictate their mood, their identity, but as Cink went over his 8-under 62 that left him one stroke off the lead it wasn’t the missed 7-footer at the last, or any of the birdie putts that did drop, he was fixated on.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s going to be a good day from sun up to sun down, the golf will be a little part of that,” Cink said with a smile.
In the 20th year of his Tour career, the veteran admits it’s taken the better part of 20 calendars to get to the sunnier side of Cink.
Cink has come by his new perspective honestly.
On Monday, Cink’s wife, Lisa, was informed by doctors that her ongoing battle with stage-four breast cancer had transitioned from the initial treatment phase to what he called a maintenance phase.
In other words, it had already been a good week for the Cinks long before he teed off for Round 1.
In May, Cink stepped away from the Tour to be by Lisa’s side as she endured nine rounds of chemotherapy and the uncertainty caused by her diagnosis.
He returned to the Tour, however reluctantly, at June’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, telling your scribe at the time, “I realized quickly that I didn’t want to be there [on Tour] without her.”
Lisa Cink was there on Thursday on an idyllic fall day at Sea Island Resort, watching all 62 of her husband’s swipes, just as she’s been doing since June.
As clichéd as it might sound, when your life is dictated by blood tests and chemotherapy treatments, a three-putt bogey loses much of its sting.
“It's constantly hanging over us, just the nature of it,” Cink said. “You don't know what the future brings with something like this. I am just really encouraged by the way she's been able to fight and handle it. It's just she's really like an inspiration for me.”
Don’t confuse Cink’s new perspective with indifference. The idea that he’s able to compartmentalize his day job from living day-to-day may not be a common skillset on the Tour, but it’s certainly not an indication of his desire.
“Not being tied to the results doesn’t mean we don’t care,” said Cink following his lowest round on the Tour. “I know who I am, I know what I have to offer. That’s what I want to be, and not let the golf shots define me.”
Cink’s evolving perspective is just part of how Lisa’s cancer has changed him. While keeping his performance on the golf course walled off has given him the ability to play “free and easy,” watching his wife endure countless treatments also inspired him to take a similar, determined approach to his game.
He started working with a new putting coach – he needed just 27 putts on Thursday on the Seaside Course – and intensified his work with a sports psychologist.
“I felt if Lisa can fight, I can fight,” he said.
Since returning to the Tour in June, Cink has found some consistency that had been missing from his game in recent years. He closed last season with a tie for 14th at the Wyndham Championship, his best finish of the season, and has finished tied for 15th in his last two Tour starts heading into the RSM Classic.
Thursday’s round was particularly surprising for a player who doesn’t have a history of going super low on Tour. After playing his first nine holes in 4 under (he started on the 10th hole), he birdied four consecutive holes starting at the fourth. It was his 3 1/2 footer for birdie at the seventh that sent his thoughts drifting to the prospects of shooting a 59.
“It crossed my mind, it’s the first time I’ve had a shot at that,” he said.
That didn’t work out for Cink after his bogey at his final hole left him a stroke behind rookie Mackenzie Hughes, not that the 43-year-old had any interest in lamenting his missed opportunity.
There was no extended practice on the putting green, no post-round meeting to identify areas of weakness, just a subdued appreciation of what he was able to accomplish, of what Lisa was able to accomplish.
“Some days you don't feel like it, but she's still getting out there and walking,” Cink said. “Today she feels really good, almost what you would consider like normal. She feels really good.”