Stewart Cink admitted that if he had been at home in Atlanta watching the recent British Open golf tournament on TV, he probably would have been pulling for Tom Watson to win. However, Cink happened to be in a playoff with the legend, who at 59 already had won five British Open titles and was having perhaps his last hurrah there.
So Cink, himself an accomplished PGA Tour pro but without a major tournament victory at that point, had to battle a pro-Watson gallery and the juicy British media in Turnberry, Scotland, not to mention the golf course.
The British press dubbed Cink “the Shrek of the links,” Cink recalled humorously Wednesday (9/16/09) in an Atlanta Press Club speech of his media treatment after snatching victory from Watson in a playoff. But he knew it was coming, and realized that it went with the territory of the “funny and biting” British press.
That was also how he felt about coming to the first playoff hole and facing the fans’ emotions.
“I didn’t want to get to the tee first (ahead of Watson),” Cink, a Georgia Tech graduate, told the press club audience. Watson, of course, would have had momentum going into the playoffs.
But even an attempt at stalling did not go smoothly. He tried to get the woman driving him in a golf cart to the tee to take a detour (there were no cart paths on the course). But she got reckless, “and I had to jump.” He landed in a thicket and feels lucky that he was not hurt or seriously delayed. “I could still be in those bushes.”
But Cink won the four-hole playoff and the legendary Claret Jug that comes with the British title. That jug now rests on this side of the big pond, in Cink’s home at the nice Sugarloaf subdivision in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs. He’s been giving it a workout. He said he’s sipped “Guinness (beer), Coke, water and champagne” from the jug since winning, but that it has been dry for four weeks.
The Open title also carried a payout of about $1.2 million, adding to Cink’s top-rung stature on the tour. Through 2008, he had won about $25 million in prize money since joining the tour in ’95. Twice in the past five years he has been in the Top 10 money-winners on the tour.
Of course, the PGA Tour is high-stakes territory. Cink said his travel expenses run approximately $550,000 annually, which includes occasional travel by private jet when it allows him to be at home more. Pro golfers, unlike athletes in team sports, have to shoulder their own travel costs. However, top golfers such as Cink have sponsors that help defray those expenses. Cink’s sponsor is Nike, which also backs Tiger Woods.
Cink, however, fondly recalls his Georgia Tech days when he used to golf at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, site of the upcoming Tour Championship (Sept. 24-27) that will decide the winner of the FedEx Cup and a $10 million payoff. (Woods leads the point chase going in, and Cink will be in the field.)
He remembers instructing charter-school students in golf at East Lake, helping them learn not only golf but good values, “about life, how to be a responsible member of society. Without a good mentor, it’s hard to pick up those values. After 15 years, I’m still a part of it.”
And yes, Cink has been bitten by the social media bug. He’s on Twitter at @stewartcink, and my recent check shows he’ s closing in on 900,000 followers. He said he got the idea while watching NBA star Chris Bosh discuss his social media efforts on the TV show “Pardon The Interruption.” Cink’s son then helped Cink set up the Twitter account, which he sees as a way to communicate directly with his fans.
“There are some boneheads I’ve had to block,” Cink said of Twitter. He tweets five to 10 times daily. So even the etiquette-driven world of golf has been penetrated by social media.