Stewart Cink may have finally found his swing at Masters

Stewart Cink wasn't happy about his putting (like this one on No. 8) but shot a 1-under in the first round of the Masters. (AP photo)

Stewart Cink wasn't happy about his putting, like this one on No. 8, but still shot 1 under in first round of Masters. (AP photo)

AUGUSTA – Imagine being viewed for years as among the best in your field, then suddenly losing it. The swing goes, the confidence wavers, the fearless aggression of youth disintegrates.

“I was fearless,” Stewart Cink said Thursday of his younger days. “But this game gives you some scar tissue.”

Imagine being a professional golfer, surpassing $30 million in a career earnings, even winning the British Open, a career apex — yet believing down deep that magical week at Turnberry in 2009 was actually some aberration. Maybe not lucky, but certainly not an accurate gauge of where you believed things were heading.

“The Open week was kind of one off-week when I played really awesome,” Cink said. “I knew that even the shots I hit well, I was getting away with something. I could hit 10 in a row beautifully but in my heart I knew there was one that could go anywhere. … I was spiraling downhill.”

Thursday was a good day for Stewart Cink. He didn’t spiral.

Even with the missed birdie putts and the 12th tee shot that rolled backward into Rae’s Creek for an early-afternoon swim, the opening round of the Masters was a step forward. He fired a 1-under-71 at Augusta National, leaving him only four shots off the lead. More important, he is a fair distance from the danger zone of a Friday drive back west on Interstate 20 and home to Duluth.

The former Georgia Tech star has missed the cut in his past two tournaments. His Tour finishes this year: 29th, 13th, withdraw, 67th, 36th, 70th, cut, cut. He had 56 top-10 finishes in the first nine years of his career, but has managed only four since (three in 2010, one last year, zippo this season).

His world ranking: No. 163. That’s right between Juvic Pagunsan and Marc Leishman. Aesthetically, it’s the geographic equivalent of being between Bismarck and Winnipeg.

But after more than two years of trying to re-make his swing and twice changing coaches, he saw progress Thursday. Save the tee shot on 12, he was strong everywhere except on the green. He hit 12 of 14 fairways. He reached 16 of 18 greens. He missed several makable birdie putts and rolled a 40-footer to the lip of the cup on 18 — totaling 32 putts — preventing a potential share of the lead.

Cink has long been one of the more likeable guys on the Tour, in part because of his honesty.

Asked if he had doubt that he could return to top form, he responded: “Of course there’s doubt.”

He said he trusts changes to his swing on the driving range, but added, “The range is emotionless. When you go out there and you’ve got a creek left and a pin placement up on the point, emotion starts to feel your soul. I haven’t learned to completely trust it yet. I need more rounds like this. … You can’t lie to your subconscious.”

On reclaiming his aggressiveness, he cracked, “I’d like to be totally fearless again. But that’s why we have sports psychologists.”

It has been a strange ride. Cink may have won the Open in 2009, but he felt his game start to slide in the last half of 2008. His swing, in the most simplistic terms, had become too inside-out. When he decided to break everything down and rebuild himself, several golf analysts were critical.

Cink: “There’s a reason they’re former players and not current players.”

He, like most players, battled a game of mud ball in the first round at Augusta National. Would the ball curve as much as expected with mud on it? Would it stick if it landed in slop, or skip away?

Golfers learn to read greens, but can they read mud?

“Yeah, at the school of bogeys,” Cink said.

He is joking again. That’s a good sign.

“I don’t know if you realize how much this game means to me and the other guys,” he said. “It’s almost life and death. Emotionally, this game treats us kind of rough of sometimes.”

He worked through some of the scar tissue Thursday. It’s a start.

By Jeff Schultz

26 comments Add your comment

lanier

April 5th, 2012
6:57 pm

much better effort Jeff

79

April 5th, 2012
7:23 pm

You are “WALKING DEAD” as a touring pro when you begin to question your perfection…….the minute you stop tapping down non-existent spike marks after a missed 5 footer, you officially join the ranks of 2nd flight runners-up in local muni city championships…..Honesty is poison to the PGA pro….Stewart joins Duval………. GT golfers who flame out…….Kuchar? Kuchar?

Sonny Clusters

April 5th, 2012
7:40 pm

If he’s got his swing do you think he could loan it to the Braves?

Producer

April 5th, 2012
7:47 pm

Cink? All of the players who might actually have a chance at winning here and Shultz wastes a column about Stewart Cink? He had to beat a 60 year old man to squeak by at the British Open. Baffling…

yoder

April 5th, 2012
8:05 pm

Nice article about a truly nice guy who does a lot for people. Some other pro athletes could take note. Go Stewart.

Pink Pony

April 5th, 2012
8:09 pm

I was drinking with John Daly in the parking lot

Whopper Dawg

April 5th, 2012
8:33 pm

Thanks, much preferred over hearing about Woods yet again.

I’ll be pulling for him.

Beauvighn

April 5th, 2012
9:04 pm

I have been a Cink fan for many years. I remember when he used to battle El Tigre when they were both college students playing the Dalton Classic. I hope he can turn it around because he is truly as nice a guy as you would ever want to meet. He is a true family man who chases his Sons around the country watching them play hockey. Good luck Stewie…

@Producer

April 5th, 2012
9:18 pm

Too bad you can’t get past the local boy tries to reclaim his game angle. Why you have to ridicule Jeff for it is beyond me. The guy’s out there throwing all manner of media at us so we can can get a taste of the tourney and you insist on poopooing. Oh, maybe that’s what you spend your time “Producing”.

Justin

April 5th, 2012
9:26 pm

Dan

April 5th, 2012
11:56 pm

He’s from GT, honest. we can all relate to struggle, he is transparent and human. Lots to relate to and it’s not always about the leaders.

smart dawg

April 6th, 2012
1:24 am

LDawg

April 6th, 2012
8:17 am

Enough about this – any fun-filled snarky comments about Mr. Petrino’s sitch?

Jack Dennis

April 6th, 2012
9:13 am

I’ll take that bad swing.

Stank Wren

April 6th, 2012
9:23 am

Jeff – Enough of all this silly golf talk. When can we expect a 3rd acticle this week on how the Masters should admit women as members?

dean

April 6th, 2012
9:42 am

LDawg, I consider myself fortunate as I just happened to have had Chuck & Chernoff tuned in when the news broke. Karma IS a bich.

Frontman

April 6th, 2012
9:44 am

Nice blog, Mr. Schultz, about a true gentleman and a great representative of Georgia Tech. The man exudes class. Mr. Cink, we are rooting for you to get a green jacket this weekend!

Burdell

April 6th, 2012
10:26 am

How many majors have you won Producer?

Delbert D.

April 6th, 2012
10:36 am

“Kuchar? Kuchar?” is currently ranked #18 in the world.

Big Ol Stinger

April 6th, 2012
10:41 am

@79

Better to be known for winning the British Open than for buying the “General Lee” and having a little girls haircut.

Snake Doc

April 6th, 2012
10:53 am

No story on eldrick loser woods todays? schultzie – you’re slipping!

Tony C.

April 6th, 2012
10:55 am

Nice dig with the WInnipeg comment Schultz! Let CInk know he’s got fans who believe in him (even if he doesn’t)!

Therut

April 6th, 2012
10:55 am

Played golf with Stewart at East Lake and Sugarloaf. Nicest golfer (and person) I have ever met.

UGA 11

April 6th, 2012
11:18 am

Very nice guy, great rep for the state. But I ain’t pulling for a Techie.

Go Bubba.

Joe

April 6th, 2012
11:38 am

I was also hoping for a few Petrino jabs, haha!

Chris

April 7th, 2012
9:58 am

Stewart Cink is a good man living a good life doing great things for people. He is a positive force in the world. He is also pretty good at what he does. Couples and Cink on Sunday last paring? Could happen. Stranger things have happened in a major……