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Defending Champ

RBC Heritage

STEWART CINK AIMS TO WIN A FOURTH RBC HERITAGE CROWN

BY ANTHONY GARZILLI | PHOTO SUPPLIED

The most important shot during Stewart Cink’s quest for last year’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing championship wasn’t a soaring final-round drive or a calm putt. 

For Cink, the crucial moment on the journey to the crown happened on the tournament’s first hole.

At 7:40 a.m., beginning his tournament from the 10th tee that Thursday, Cink hit a poor drive, hooking it about 25 yards into the lake. 

“I’ve learned that can be a bad situation for me — first shot of the day. That can be a burst of the bubble,” Cink told Monthly during Heritage media day. “I said, ‘That right there is an indication that I am not ready to play. I said, ‘Get ready to play because we have a lot of holes left to go.’ I had a chance to go the wrong way and was able to put myself on the right track.” 

Cink rebounded to finish 8-under par the first day en route to a 16-under 126 in the first two rounds – the lowest halfway score at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head. Cink shot a 69 on Saturday and finished with a final-round 1-under 70 to finish with a four-shot victory. He ended the tournament 19-under. 

Cink, 48, returns to Harbour Town this year (April 11-17) seeking his fourth tournament championship. He won his first title in 2000 and his second in 2004. His challengers include Collin Morikawa, who as of mid-March was ranked No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and sixth-ranked Cameron Smith, the reigning Players Championship winner.

Looking back, Cink said last year’s championship chase began with the crucial first hole. 

“People think a chip in or shot from a difficult position might be the key shot for me, but I think that shot, hitting it into the lake, was the key shot for me in the tournament,” he said. 

The negative thoughts associated with hitting a poor shot are something Cink works to overcome. Even after a career that includes eight PGA Tour victories, including the 2009 Open Championship, the Atlanta resident understands that dealing with nerves and some doubt is part of the challenge of the sport. 

“It’s one of the biggest challenges I face in my career and what most golfers also face,” Cink said. “When you are nervous, you kind of are at a crossroads, and you can go down this road which says, I’m going to let this nervous energy make me more focused and more intense and dialed in, or you can go down this road, which makes me feel that I’m afraid and I don’t want to be here, and what happens if I fail? 

“It's a very, very fine line between those two. Everybody is right on the edge.” 

Cink said it takes discipline and training to recognize “when you are on the wrong side of it and get yourself on the right side of it.” 

As he’s gotten older, he’s worked harder to stay on the right side. Helping him stay positive is his son and caddie, 23-year-old Reagan, who was Cink’s caddie during last year’s Heritage and has continued to be by his father’s side. 

“It’s something I never dreamt could be possible in my career,” he said. “I don’t want it to end, but it's going to have to end. He’s good at it. I love seeing him make decisions; he’s forthright with me.” 

Cink said Harbour Town offers “a type of challenge you just don’t see anywhere else.” 

He said shots from the tee are narrow, framed by the trees. 

“It’s like kicking a field goal,” he said. “You can hit a ball straight down to your target line in the middle of the fairway and you can end up behind a tree, with over-hanging limbs.” 

No matter the challenge, Cink knows he can rely on the knowledge of sterling performances at the Heritage, including a birdie putt on No. 18 when he secured the 2000 title. 

“I knew when I made that, the guys behind me weren't going to have a chance to catch me,” he said. “A putt like that, you remember those, and that was 22 years ago.”