Cink and Son have a little business left at Tour Championship

Reagan Cink, on the bag, and Stewart Cink enjoy their stroll up the 18th fairway on the way to winning April's RBC Heritage at Hilton Head. (Stephen B. Morton/AP)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Reagan Cink, on the bag, and Stewart Cink enjoy their stroll up the 18th fairway on the way to winning April's RBC Heritage at Hilton Head. (Stephen B. Morton/AP)

It began in November with a what-do-we-have-to-lose kind of resignation. It ends next week at the Tour Championship at East Lake as one of the year’s most productive father-son combinations. What the Guthries were to folk and the Sanfords were to junk, the Cinks – Stewart and Reagan – have been to golf during the 2020-21 season.

It’s a shame it has to end. But dad is rather insistent about his boy putting down the bag, dusting off that Georgia Tech engineering degree, and going to work at something a little more stable and easier on the back.

What better place for one last loop for the Cinks than East Lake, in their hometown on their second home of a course at a season-ending tournament that’s harder to get into than your old wedding suit? For Stewart, who at 48 remarkably rejuvenated his game, and the 24-year-old Reagan, who caddied for every step of the comeback tour, it figures to be a heartfelt victory lap.

“It’s kind of a perfect ending the way it all worked out. From the beginning that was kind of the dream when we said, let’s do this for the year,” Reagan said.

It has been a good long while (2009) since Cink last played in the Tour Championship, a convention of the PGA Tour’s top 30 players playing for all the leftover millions of dollars that has to be cleared off the books before starting a new season. That has grated on a man who is a member at East Lake and fully invested in the community mission they have going on there.

“I know what it feels like not to be in the field, and I know what it feels like to be in the field. And I much prefer being in. It’s a lot of fun being here,” Stewart said in late July.

The two have to finish work at this weekend’s playoff semifinal, the BMW Championship. On the strength of two victories this season, Stewart entered the tournament 19th in FedEx Cup points - 22nd entering Saturday’s third round - and a virtual lock to make the Tour Championship. Just stay upright this weekend, and he’s in.

Cink and Son was formed late last year just before the PGA Tour’s event in Napa, Calif. Stewart wasn’t doing much on the course – two missed cuts in his previous five events, average finish of 42nd in the other three. Reagan wasn’t doing much away from it – the job he was to take at Delta Air Lines after graduation stalled by COVID-19.

“That tournament is historically an expensive one for caddies, and I decided to give my caddie a break and say my son’s going to caddie this one,” Stewart recalled.

Here’s where it gets downright melodramatic. Cue the string music. Stewart won that Safeway Open by two strokes, shooting a pair of 65s on the weekend for his first victory since the 2009 British Open. He was stupid steady, making only one bogey over his final 40 holes.

The two couldn’t quit on that. Reagan naturally would want to work the Masters now that Dad was back in. And if he was going to go through April, it was only logical to ride the wave to the end of the season, whenever that might be. The real world could wait.

Good call. One week after Stewart posted his best Masters finish (T12) since 2008, he cruised over to Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage and won by a comfortable four strokes. The walk up 18 that Sunday, relaxed and with the title all but in hand, allowed father and son to truly enjoy the moment in real time.

Said Reagan, “We flexed what we had been so good at all year – that’s being cool and hanging out and understanding that through a round of golf, the actual shots are only 10% of your day. Most of the time is me and my dad getting to enjoy the walk, talking, telling jokes. He birdied 17 to extend the lead to point it was basically insurmountable. And walking down 18 was one of the coolest moments of my life.”

Nobody’s saying that having his son on the bag made all the difference. Least of all Reagan. He’s more apt to point to the work his father did with his swing coaches to remodel his game and his approach.

Changing his set-up and trajectory, Stewart added 15 yards to his drive while honing his accuracy. Studying his stats from 2019, he came upon the conclusion that it was better to play smart than play daring.

“We determined I made like .2 fewer birdies per round than the average and made .6 more bogeys per round than the average. So, if you compare, the way it shook out for me is that it’s three times more important for me to avoid bogeys than to try to generate birdies.”

The result: “He is a completely different golfer than he was a year ago at this time,” Reagan said. “I think I do help to an extent, but it fell into my lap how much he revitalized his game. I think without me he still has his best year in 10 years.”

Where the two Cinks really clicked was in the prep work going into each event, in developing a detailed hole-by-hole plan. It’s like they really knew and understood each, like they were related or something.

“We did a lot of recon for the tournaments, and it resulted in a win right away. I didn’t expect that, to be honest. The results were immediate. Golf felt a lot easier there for a while,” Stewart said.

And in the process, a father and a son got the greatest of gifts. More than the victories. More than the winnings ($3.5 million this season and counting, greater than Cink’s past four seasons combined) and the cut that goes to the caddie. An opportunity to get to know each other at a different level.

“What this year has done with all the time we spend together, it has really blossomed our companionship,” Reagan said. “At the beginning of the year, he was my dad, we had that relationship. I would say now he is one of my absolute best friends. We have the father-son, but we also have that relationship as equals, where we make each other laugh and we hang out and are dumb kids together sometimes. It’s a cool thing.”

So, why not keep going?

Reagan got married at the end of July and got a little time off for a honeymoon in Bora Bora (while younger brother Connor caddied for his dad during a tournament in Memphis). “I have a very forgiving boss,” Reagan said.

Stewart made it clear that the vagabond life of a caddie did not pair well with starting a healthy marriage. Reagan came around to the belief that it was time to make use of that Tech degree rather than try to be someone else’s pack mule. After all, it could never be as good as it was for these past 10 months with his dad.

But he can put off the job search for at least one more week while the two of them look forward to strolling a course that has long been a part of the family. Stewart adopted East Lake as his own, and that meant getting Reagan on when possible from the time he was a high school golfer at Greater Atlanta Christian. There is a poetic symmetry with finishing their sentimental golfing journey at East Lake.

“I love that place, it really is special to me,” Reagan said.

And now it stands to be more special still, as the last act of a beautiful father-son saga.