Cink family combines for Safeway Open triumph
7 Min Read
Written by Ben Everill @BEverillPGATOUR
Stewart Cink’s Round 4 highlights from Safeway Open
NAPA, Calif. – Lisa Cink grabbed her husband Stewart by the shirt front Sunday morning and pulled him in close with some vigor. “Do you know how good you are?” she asked firmly while staring him down.
It was a slightly aggressive move but it was done with nothing but love. This was a wife who knows a thing or two about fighting tough battles trying to inject some confidence into her man. And it was a kick in the butt moment Stewart needed as he contemplated heading out to try to break a win drought spanning over 11 years.
It also wasn’t the only thing Lisa imparted on her husband before he would ultimately go out to Silverado Resort and Spa to shoot his second consecutive 7-under 65 to win by two shots. Her words came after Cink had confided in her, saying “I’m really excited for today and I'm really scared.”
“She had some great words. She said, "You know what? You're loved no matter what you do. No one expects anything out of you. I know you can do it and you know you can do it … you’re with your son … so just go out there and have a great time.”
It helped Cink feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to even be in a position to win again after what had stretched to a 4,074 day drought. Indeed, son Reagan was acting as his caddie this week. It was also his other son Connor’s birthday. Reagan had recently become engaged. Things were good in life.
Prior to his two-shot triumph over Harry Higgs, the last win for Cink was his 2009 Open Championship victory at Turnberry where he famously overran 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff. Watson had been a final hole par short of a famous victory but when he faulted, Cink stepped in to seal the win.
It was his sixth TOUR win and looked like it could be the start of something big. But his life would get topsy turvy from there. Over the 11 seasons from 2010-2020 Cink had just 15 top-10s, none of which were victories.
But it was in 2016 where things got really rough as Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully she made it to remission. Just a few years ago Stewart had his own cancer scare, needing to have cancerous cells cut out of his face. More reasons to feel gratitude as he closed the front nine with a fourth birdie to join the lead.
A chip in birdie on the par-3 11th had him top spot to himself, but it was a moment with Lisa off the 14th green, after he’d just missed a 16-foot birdie chance to press his advantage, that was just as critical. Instead of being annoyed, he was content.
“I definitely had a lot of emotions out there today. I just was overcome at a few times with a feeling of gratitude and just feeling like how fortunate I am to be in the position that I'm in,” Cink confirmed.
“We call it when the bullets are flying out there. The last four or five holes of a PGA TOUR event your name's on top of the leaderboard, but think about it, I've got my son caddieing for me, my wife is in almost five‑year remission now and she's walking out there just on the side of the ropes, and at 47 I'm able to compete at the highest level and now not just compete, but win,” Cink beamed.
“I walked over to the side of the ropes after 14 and I grabbed Lisa by the arm and I just told her how grateful I was at that moment. I always try really hard to keep my heart in the right place when I'm competing, that's just one of my main goals. I want to win, but I don't want winning to be something that I have to do to like fulfill myself.”
Cink admitted he had come to terms with the possibility he might never win again during his long drought. The calmness at that moment was in fact a huge factor. As he heard a roar behind him that came as Higgs made a long-range birdie on the 14th, Cink responded with a 20-foot birdie of his own on the 15th. He then birdied the 16th.
“I came to terms with the possibility that it might not happen, I did, but it's not something I was settled or content with. I still compete to try to win and I work hard on my game and I just try to squeeze every little bit of juice I can out of my golf game, out of that lemon,” Cink said.
“In that regard, I'm no different than a 20‑ or 25‑year‑old kid out here who's still got like his entire career ahead of him. I'm still working like crazy to try to be the best golfer I can be, but there was probably a time where I felt like maybe age might have caught up with me and maybe I might have had my last win out here, but I wasn't ready to concede that. I just knew that if I got back into position again, that if the time's right, I can hang in there.”
It wasn’t without some nervous moments. Higgs turned a good bounce off some trees and a cart path into an eagle on the 16th to pull within two. And he made sure to walk all the way up to the green at 17 as Cink left his six-foot par putt short to cut his lead to just one.
Cink dodged one when Higgs missed an eight-foot birdie soon after and another by hitting the fairway off the 18th tee and hitting his 7-wood through to the back of the par-5 finisher with style to allow a relatively simple up and down to make another birdie.
“If you go out there thinking you're not going to lose it, then you're wrong and you're going to be shocked. So I was prepared to lose it. I mean, for crying out loud, I left a five‑foot putt short on the 17th hole that I needed to make,” Cink explained. “That's not like what a champion does, but a champion does get back up off the mat when he gets knocked down and I got knocked down a little bit there and I went and played the 18th hole the best I've played it in my whole life.”
While Lisa had the golden words prior to the round, son Reagan had the gilded tongue during the round. The 23-year-old is not a regular caddie, in fact this was just his fourth time carrying the bag. As they came off the second green Reagan said, “Dad your tangibles are really, really good right now. Your club, your ball, your tangibles, like your ball's doing what it's supposed to do, you're putting, your ball's starting online. Let's just take care of the intangibles today.”
Cink was impressed. And he relaxed.
“That is great advice for someone who's caddied three or four times on the PGA TOUR and hasn't played in a golf tournament I don't think since high school golf,” Cink said. “But he made a good point; my driver was doing what it's supposed to do, my fairway woods, my irons, my wedges, my putter, everything was really doing what it was supposed to do and it was up to me to take care of the rest.
“He did a great job keeping me positive and keeping me loose out there. We just had a really great time from the get-go all week. He's not just a ceremonial caddie. He understands golf to the very, very highest level. It was really a great experience.”
The win will see the 47-year-old now fully exempt through this season and two more after it meaning he will get through to his 50th birthday when he becomes PGA TOUR Champions eligible. He will also find a place in the 2021 PLAYERS Championship and Masters tournaments and the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui. As such he will have to cancel a family ski trip in favor of one in the sun. Lisa wasn’t complaining.
“This is the culmination of so many things. It's so special to have Reagan and Stewart do this together. I've watched him work so hard for so many years without the results, so for those to show up now is just an amazing blessing,” she said.
When her husband and son came off the 18th green and the win was officially secured after Higgs was unable to hole out a wedge shot for eagle Lisa grabbed Stewart’s shirt again. She also grabbed Reagan’s. This time she pulled them in for a well deserved massive hug.