By the withering, what-are-you-talking-about look Stewart Cink gave the question, it must have been just about the dumbest one he had heard this calendar year.
So, all these times you didn’t make the Masters field, did you ever just make the easy drive from your Alpharetta home to Augusta to watch up close and personal, like any other regular Joe. A regular Joe with pretty good connections to a Masters badge?
The Look. Pause “Too painful. Watching (on television) is enough,” he said.
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“If I ain’t startin’, I ain’t departin’,” baseball’s Gary Templeton once said around All-Star time. Cink clearly is of that same mind when it comes to major golf tournaments in his home state.
Well, he’s here this week, at his 18th Masters after a four-year absence. So, yes, that means he brought his clubs. Finishing top-four in last year’s PGA Championship qualified Cink for a return engagement, making a 27-foot birdie putt that day to just make it above the Masters-approved cut-off line.
He’s been just on the other side of that line, too, which earned him the lengthy Masters hiatus. A five-year exemption into the year’s first major for winning the 2009 British Open ran out in 2014. Needing to finish 12th or better in that ’14 Masters to earn his way back the next year, Cink rallied with a Sunday 68, but that only left him teasingly close. He finished T-14.
A run of 17 Masters appearances over the preceding 18 years had been broken. A virtual given was gone. And there was no telling if Cink, entering his 40s and soon to be cutting back on his game to support his wife and her cancer treatment, would ever make it back this way again.
Lisa Cink is doing much better now, and, correspondingly, her husband’s game has undergone just enough of a resurgence to get him back here one more time.
Playing with him Thursday was a fellow former Georgia Tech golfer, and one-time Masters champion Larry Mize - “Probably my favorite player to play with over the years,” Cink said. The comfort level was high, until he reached the par-5 15th.
“I made the absolute cardinal sin on 15, I hit it over the green,” Cink said. From there, he chipped long and onto the slope that fed his ball into the water guarding the front of the green. He dropped back behind the green, chipped again and two-putted for a triple-bogey 8. That’s how you go about shooting a 4-over 76.
“Overall today was not terrible. I would like to redo the 15th hole. Other than that I was proud of myself for battling. Had a great attitude. Live to fight again another day,” said Cink, who has some serious work to do in order to make the cut and play into the weekend.
Even a tough day, playing the Masters beats a day in the easy chair, watching it on TV.
“It’s a great show. I still love golf, and I like to see how everybody does. The course is always a great story. I love watching it,” Cink said. “But it was bittersweet, too, because there’s pain involved when you’ve played in 17 Masters and you’re suddenly not there for four of them.”
No matter the score, there was one point Cink wanted to make clear about his long-sought return to the Masters even before striking his first shot: That he is not yet to that stage of life where he’s just happy to be here. He is quite militant about that view.
“I’m fully in the middle of my career playing golf. I’m not a ceremonial player. I’m not about to retire or anything. I’m still pursuing golf to the greatest degree I can,” he had said before coming to Augusta.
“It has been a great career, but it’s not over — not even close,” he said. “I’m going there for more than to create memories. I want to go out there, have a great experience and compete and continue to try to get a little better.”
And to suggest anything less is to risk The Look.
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