The long walk to a first PGA Tour title in 11 years paused for just a moment Sunday to allow an upwelling of emotion to play through.
As Stewart Cink walked off the 14th green Sunday on the final round of the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., with the lead but having just missed a 16-foot birdie putt, he required a quick conference with his wife, Lisa, before attacking those final four holes.
“I don’t know, I just felt like a lot of gratitude in my heart after that hole. And thinking about at my age and being in this position, having (son) Reagan on the bag. I just went over to her, I just leaned in and I told her we’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” he recounted during his post-round interview.
“It just kind of overcame me there for a second. Just feeling that little bit of gratitude and I really wanted to appreciate and recognize where I was. After that, I just walked off. We had a little bit more work to do.”
From there, the 47-year-old Cink, the former Georgia Tech player and longtime Duluth resident, went forth and prospered. His last victory was no small change – he took out 59-year-old Tom Watson in a 2009 British Open playoff. But his next one may have been even better.
“I didn’t know if there would be another more special moment for my career than (the ’09 Open), but there might be a new one now,” Cink said.
Turns out Cink hadn’t forgotten how to win, he just misplaced that virtue for a bit while dealing with more important stuff. He’d wobble slightly Sunday, missing a 3-footer while 3-putting 17. But then come right back to birdie the par-5 18th, his third birdie on the final four holes to nail down a two-stroke victory. This wasn’t the strongest field in the world – nothing like this week’s collection at the U.S. Open – but there is no diminishing Cink’s twin rounds of 7-under 65 on the weekend.
There was something beyond hitting a ball with a fancy curved stick at play here last weekend. The best sports stories have so much more going for them than sports. And in this one there’s present the near mystical forces of family.
Was it only coincidence that this was the one week Cink chose to have his son Reagan, a recent Tech grad himself, on the bag? The boy, who has worked three other tournaments with his father, wanted to share one more before moving on to life’s next phase.
And could this seventh PGA Tour career victory have meant nearly as much if Lisa, the cancer survivor whose battle has so shaped her husband’s will and ability to play since 2016, wasn’t there to make the walk with him?
“It’s absolutely surreal,” Lisa told reporters afterward. “I still keep going, ‘Oh, my gosh, you won, you won, it’s amazing, you won.’ But for Reagan to be here, it was special from the get-go. It just felt like there was something special this week.”
The reward for aging out of your golfing prime and for enduring personal crises is that missed 3-footers on the 71st hole of golf tournaments don’t necessarily lay you low.
“When you’re 47, you have a lot more experience and a lot more things happened in your life that you can use to put golf into perspective,” Cink said Sunday. “It’s certainly been the case for us, and I don’t think anybody escapes stuff like that. It was just a really great week. I’m glad Lisa was able to be here. And Reagan on the bag was just awesome.”
For this week there was this 5G wideband connection between father and son. Reagan was so much more than a bag-toting mule on this journey. His father credited him with dispensing all kinds of sage advice before and during the round and for possessing a keen and committed eye on the green. Cink can think of no one he’d rather partner up with for a friendly round than his two sons – Connor was unable to be there. And now one has become an equal partner in a long-time-coming tournament victory.
For one week, a proud competitor, 4,074 days removed from his last win, proved that he wasn’t wrong to believe he still had a place among the best of his game.
“Well, when you get 47 like I am, you just don’t really, really know if you’re ever going to be able to close the door on another (victory),” he said Sunday. “I’ve been at times in the position to get it done and haven’t and this was just a really special week where I had a lot of good things going with my golf.”
The ripples of the week spread wide.
Cink has regained full-exempt status through the 2022-23 season, a welcome bridge to his 50th birthday in ’23 and a possible foray into the senior circuit. Unsure whether his brief appearance in the 2019 Masters – 76-72, cut – might be his last, Cink has a spot in next April’s event. He’s also in for the 2021 PGA Championship, Players Championship and Sentry Tournament of Champions.
And seeing how the Safeway is the initial event of the 2020-21 wrap-around PGA Tour season, look who’s leading in FedEx Cup points for the first time in his career?
And that is just the foam on Cink’s latte right now. His gratitude reaches so much deeper than some very nice perks.