This month Stewart Cink returns to Augusta National Golf Club to play in his thirteenth Masters. At thirty-six, Cink has matured into one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour. The Georgia Tech alum boasts career winnings approaching $30 million, but it wasn’t until last year’s victory over Tom Watson at the British Open at Turnberry, in which Cink squashed Watson in a four-hole playoff, that the Duluth resident won his first major. As Cink himself admits, it was the major he figured he was least likely to win. But with the help of a retooled short game and a focus on routine and not outcome, he not only won, but he also deprived the fifty-nine-year-old Watson (and the media) of what was shaping up to be the greatest sports story of all time. In February, Cink talked with Steve Fennessy about how he won the British Open when he was sick, his love of Twitter, and the Bible study group that helps keep him grounded during the long months on the road.
Talk about the first time you saw Augusta National in person. When I was in college we used to play there every year at Georgia Tech. We had decent connections who would host us. The first time I stepped foot on it was to play it. It was around January or February. We drove over there in the morning. It was the most exciting day—up until then—of my life. The weather was kind of rainy. Everyone was a little nervous. We got there and the weather cleared out. But when we got to the eleventh green, we started hearing little claps of thunder. By the time we got to the twelfth tee, the bottom had fallen out and it was an all-out thunderstorm. As it was a tradition for the older fellas, as soon as it started to rain, they said, “Let’s call it a day.” So all we could do was look down the twelfth fairway. I never got to play Amen Corner.
How were you playing up until then? I don’t remember. I was in awe of the place. I was surprised how hilly it was, and how much undulation there was on the putting surfaces and off the edges.
You drive the ball 290 yards on average and hit 77 percent greens in regulation. It seems Augusta should have been your first major, where those kinds of numbers are rewarded. I’ve always thought the British Open would be the last major I would win, not the first one. It’s not in my style. Conditions can range from like a nor’easter to pretty nice. The Masters—you’d think it would fit into my type of game better. But it hasn’t really done that. I think the reason is I haven’t been pleased with my short game for a while. To win at Augusta, you really need to be on top of your short game. So I’ve worked hard on it. About a year ago, I changed my whole approach. It paid off right away. I’m trying to get better. If you look at the best players, Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson), they have that dramatic type of short game. That’s what I’m working for.