Cink always linked to Watson at British Open

Even two years after the fact, Stewart Cink continues to be approached by people who want to ask him about defeating then-59-year-old and sentimental favorite Tom Watson in a playoff to win the British Open at Turnberry.

“All the time, all the time,” Cink said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “It’s the No. 1 thing, by far, that people mention to me in airports or in restaurants or whenever I see people around. They usually give me a hard time for beating up on old Tom Watson. But it’s good-natured every single time. I enjoy going back and forth with people like that.”

Cink, 38, who will be at Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne on Monday for a golf clinic, enjoyed his return overseas for this year’s Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. He battled the rain, wind and cold en route to a 77 in Saturday’s third round and finished in a tie for 30th for the four days.

Cink called it “really cool” to return to the Open as a past champion.

“It’s always special,” he said. “The fans receive you so well over there. You hear about how they’re the most knowledgeable fans in golf, and that’s not inaccurate at all. They are. They really understand the shot and what you’re trying to accomplish on the shot. You can almost feel like you’re playing in front of a bunch of your peers.

“It brings back a lot of memories because the courses have so many similarities to each other. You feel the same kind of turf and the same kind of bunkers and the same kind of breeze – and the same rain suit. So there are a lot of memories that come flooding back.”

The 2009 Open is the most recent of Cink’s six career wins on the PGA Tour.

Cink described his current season as one that has been “pretty bleak for me, to be honest.” His world ranking, 46th at the start of the year, has dropped to 80. He has one top-10 – a ninth-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship – in 17 starts, and missed the cut at both the Masters and U.S. Open.

He hopes to soon turn around his fortunes. Cink has just begun working with a new coach, Chris O’Connell, and said he has seen “little things that give you a sense of belief that you’re going to be able to (execute the shot) when you need it.

“Every bit of positive feedback goes a long way in that sense of belief,” he said. “That’s what separates you from being successful to being just an average or also-ran type of player.”

Cink said he draws encouragement from Steve Stricker, who at age 44 is currently the top American in the world rankings.

“I feel like at 38, there are two directions I can go – I can either just sort of fade away or I can really be strong for the next five or six years,” he said. “Steve Stricker is a good example. He struggled until his mid 30s to where I really feel he’s our best American player right now. My game is sort of patterned on his where he made some changes and solidified his golf swing quite a bit and became a super player.”

Cink will have the home crowd advantage for next month’s PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club, which he said is only eight miles from his home in suburban Duluth, Ga. But he admitted he hasn’t played the course since the PGA’s last visit back in 2001.

Cink will be at Philadelphia Country Club conducting what is described as "an interactive golf experience” sponsored by Chase Sapphire, one of five to be held nationwide. A spokeswoman for the company said the clinic sold out in two hours, and that 72 people – card members and their guests – will participate.

“Instead of being on the range talking about grip and stance, we’re on the course talking about the shot in front of us and what we need to do, the decision-making,” Cink said. “I’ll be telling stories between shots and answering questions.”

Perhaps the quick sellout is attributable to Cink’s standing as a social media pioneer of the PGA Tour. One of the first players to utilize Twitter, he said he now has 1.2 million followers on the network.

Cink said he enjoys the interaction with his fans on Twitter and called it “almost like a constant Q-and-A session.

“I’ll answer them back because it keeps the relationship genuine even though it’s more a cyber kind of thing," he said. "They ask me questions for a reason. They just don’t throw them out there for nothing. They want a response. So I feel like I’ll show them that I respect them. For that reason, I think a lot of people have stayed on and not dropped me.”

--Joe Juliano