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July 19, 2009

Stewart Cink


MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, we are joined by the 2009 Open champion, Stewart Cink. Stewart, many congratulations. Take us through your thoughts on your first major championship and a phenomenal victory.
STEWART CINK: Well, I'm just filled with pride and honour, and I'm just -- I don't know, there's too many words to use to describe the way I feel to even start the list.
Having outlasted this field on this golf course with the way the weather tried to beat us down the last three days, it's something that I'll never forget. It's great to be the one left.
And I have to be honest, playing against Tom, you know, in the playoff, it's mixed feelings because I've watched him with such admiration all week. And of course it would come down to me against him in the playoff. But it was just -- I felt like I did a pretty good job in the playoff sticking to my game, and made a couple of good saving putts.
And then the golf course is so hard that someone eventually is going to probably lose the tournament with mistakes. And I think that's ended up what happened.
MALCOLM BOOTH: Many congratulations.

Q. Can you talk in general about winning a major? I know you felt you've been good enough to win a major for a while and this being a long time coming and how much you needed this?
STEWART CINK: Well, how much I needed it, I don't know -- I'm not sure I really thought much about whether I was good enough to win a major or not. I knew I'd been close a few times, but I never really heard my name tossed in there with the group of best ones not to have won. So maybe I was starting to believe that, that I wasn't one of the best ones to never have won a major.
But this week for some reason I just believed all week that I had something good. My swing felt great. I was hitting the ball solidly. I was curving it the right direction, and that's so important here. And I just felt so calm. I never even felt nervous at all. I mean, literally I did not feel nervous today in a situation that in the past I would be extremely nervous. I just felt calm all day. I felt like I was just totally at peace about whatever happened because I was proud of how I played up to today and through the front nine and through the first 13 holes and then kind of made a couple of bogeys out there on 14 and 16, but I was just calm the whole way. Somebody at a major championship always has that calm peace about them, and I had it today.

Q. Can you tell us what you said to Tom immediately before the playoff and what you said to him after the playoff?
STEWART CINK: I don't honestly remember what I said, but if I had to go back out there and do it all over again, I'm sure I would say to him, "great playing this week, let's play great in this playoff." And I think I probably said something like that.
And then at the end when the outcome of the playoff wasn't really in question anymore, once I hit my shot on the green on 18, then I was able to sit back and not only enjoy myself walking up to the green but also reflect a little bit about what Tom Watson just did in front of all of us.

Q. In fact I was going to ask you the same question that the gentleman asked before me. But the other question I wanted to ask, you are known for your Twittering, so has a message been already sent to your fans?
STEWART CINK: Have I already sent a Twitter out? Not yet. I haven't got to my phone yet. But I'll probably send one out pretty soon. I don't know what the subject might be.

Q. I'm sure you thought highly of Watson growing up, maybe watched him or idolised, what have you. But could you ever have dreamed you were going to go head-to-head with him. It just doesn't seem possible, obviously.
STEWART CINK: Well, going way back, no, I would never have dreamed that I would go head-to-head against Tom Watson in a playoff for a major championship. That would be beyond even my mind's imagination capabilities.
But after playing with him in the practise round with him this year at the Masters, I would have told you that I don't really ever want to go up against him head-to-head because of the way he hits it. He's so solid, and he hits the right shot. He just plays under control. The same Tom Watson that won this tournament in, what was it, '77, the same guy showed up here this week. And he just about did it. He beat everybody but one guy. And it was really special.
But no, I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be playing against Tom Watson.

Q. It's hard for me to ask this question, but was there a part of you that was at all conflicted given that you were taking on the guy that everybody was pulling for, you being a sports fan and understanding the magnitude and you've got a job to do and all that, but you know where I'm going with that?
STEWART CINK: Yeah, actually it cleared up the waters a little bit for me because it's not the first time I've been in that situation. I've played plenty of times with Tiger and hearing the Tiger roars and Mickelson. I'm usually the guy that the crowd -- they appreciate but they're not behind me 100 percent of the way. You know, they aren't.
So, you know, that's the sort of role I've been cast into for my whole career. And, hey, that's not the worst. It's okay.
But actually more recently when I played with Lee yesterday, being the home guy, you know, I kind of knew what to expect. The crowd was behind Lee the whole way, which they should be. And the crowd in the playoff was behind Tom.
And I think that it turned a little bit -- they finally jumped onto my bandwagon a little bit after 17. But it actually cleared up the waters for me and helped me focus a little bit. There's always a lot of obstacles out there on a links course with these bunkers and the wind and the greens always presenting difficulties, and that's just another one.

Q. Congratulations. That was a wonderful approach shot that you hit on the 18th in the playoff.

Q. It really was a shot that was fit to win any playoff. Is there a hint of disappointment or even regret that Tom wasn't able to carry his form from the 72 holes into the playoff and make more of a contest of it, or are you just too happy to have won to be thinking about stuff like that right now?
STEWART CINK: I think it might be dangerous for me to answer that question. (Laughter.) A cushion on the last hole of any tournament is fine, and I'll take it, no matter how it got there. I was pleased to hit a good shot. I think Tom may have gotten a little tired at the end. It's a grueling week.

Q. It maybe gets lost in the shuffle, but the putt you made at 18 to end regulation, a tough 15-footer, what did you know of the situation then, other than the fact that you obviously wanted to make it? Did you think that it might get you there, or did you know what the scoreboard was?
STEWART CINK: I don't remember knowing exactly what I needed to do, but I just knew I wanted to try to make that putt. I've been working really hard the last two or three months on my putting and my whole mental approach to golf. And that was just another test, you know, that I had to try to pass, and I passed that one. And it just came at a great time. I had a good solid routine there. I knew what I was looking at, and I hit that putt with really -- really without a care in the world of whether it went in or whether it missed.
But a blank mind like that is the best way to approach a pressure-packed situation, and I was proud of myself the way I handled that.

Q. I know you played some practise rounds over in Ireland last week. Where did you play and how beneficial was that experience to this week?
STEWART CINK: We played at Lahinch, Ballybunion, and we stayed at Dunvegan, played, all of which were fantastic. The only other time I've ever come over early and played links golf for preparation was in 2007, where I finished 6th at Carnoustie. So I think there is a correlation. And I think next year I will be going to play links golf before The Open Championship again, and hopefully if my kids and my wife will accompany me like they did this year, I'll invite them along, too, and we'll have another good time.

Q. Congratulations. You mentioned the crosswinds and the way the golf course was, kind of lent itself to mistakes. A lot of guys had trouble bringing it home today, a lot of late bogeys, a lot of mistakes. I know it's the British Open and there's a lot of pressure, and you even had your own, you know, stumble late. What do you think was the biggest reason that was happening today?
STEWART CINK: Well, the nature of the weather and the breeze here, if it's blowing across, you just don't have any margin for error with the way you start your shot, the trajectory or the spin. You have to be right on or you're just going to miss your target, no question.
So holes that were coming across breeze like 12, 15 and 16 -- 16 is a brutally hard hole with that burn right there and the pin. I'm not sure why, but they stuck it right by the burn every day. And so on that hole, you know, to get the ball close to the hole, you have to aim at the burn and let the wind bring it back. You have to in fact aim a little right of the flag and cut it into the wind. But if you over-cut it, it's not going to go -- it's going 15 yards short of your target, and that's burn.
It's just so easy to release the club a little bit extra at the bottom or hold onto it at the bottom if you're afraid of going left, and you end up with bogeys. It's just a -- that's why the weather conditions the last two days were absolutely ideal for this kind of golf. Not that it's -- I don't mean ideal in an easy way; I mean ideal for the test. This is the way it should be.
It blew 15 miles an hour, there was no wind delays or anything, nothing goofy, but it was just the perfect amount of wind to challenge everybody and to see what everybody had. It was a test out there, and everybody stumbled. And it's just a question of how much you picked yourself up after.

Q. Given the way Tom owned the week, just following up on an earlier question, does a part of you feel as though you came in at the end of a syrupy, sentimental Hollywood movie and stole the girl at the end? (Laughter.)
STEWART CINK: Well, as long as the result is I get the girl, I'm okay with that. No, I don't feel that way. I feel like that whether Tom was 59 or 29, you know, he was one of the field, and I had to play against everybody on the field and the course to come out on top. I don't think anything can be taken away. Somebody may disagree with that, but it's going to be hard to convince me.

Q. Given the difficulties you had with your game and the changes that you had to make recently, how much more satisfying does that make this victory?
STEWART CINK: It can't get any more satisfying than this. It is just -- it's all paid off, you know, everything I've changed.
When you're having a solid career and you go and just make massive changes, it's a leap of faith to some extent, and I trusted other people. I trusted myself that I would be able to transform myself into a new type of golfer. And that transformation, I guess with this Claret Jug in my hand, it's now complete. And the journey is not over, but as far as whether it works, I think I'm a believer now.

Q. What do you do differently to play links golf physically and mentally?
STEWART CINK: Mentally it just requires more patience. Physically it really doesn't require much at all, except just stay warm. But mentally there's just so many crosswind shots, downwind shots where you hit good shots that don't end up good. Or you hit bad shots and end up really bad. It happens. It happens to everybody. You just have to be prepared for that.
And the way I did it was I played in Ireland last week. I don't think I shot one round last week better than about 2- or 3-over par in four days. It was blowing like crazy. And I shot high scores, made some bad numbers on holes, and came here you would think maybe a little frustrated or questionable, but I came here knowing that, hey, this is what you get when you play links. So I was ready to go.

Q. A quick follow-up. Do you play any kind of different shots? Do you play a hard draw or anything like that when you need it?
STEWART CINK: If you have to, yeah. But everybody in the field has those shots already. Those shots are in the golf bag. If you've made it to this level already, those shots are there. You just have to know when to pick those shots out and play the big draw against the wind or cut one up against the breeze. Part of that is experience, part of it's execution, it's a little mix of both.

Q. I believe you spent some practise time with Greg Norman at Dunvegan last week. Did you try to pick his brain, considering he's a champion here, and did you get any tips from him before coming over here?
STEWART CINK: Well, we were there at the same time, but we didn't play together. The day he was playing at Dunvegan we played another course, just by the schedules. So I did speak to him and I told him how much I really enjoyed his golf course there. The place is only eight years old, and it looks like it's been there 108 years; it's really cool. But, no, there was no interaction as far as golf at all.

Q. You said at the ceremony that you had been watching Tom play all week. Did you find yourself watching him at all on TV when you finished your rounds, or did you actually get a chance to -- when you said that, what level did you watch him at?
STEWART CINK: Well, I was curious -- we play in the same way. So I never got to see him play a lot. What I meant by that was I watched the scoreboard, I watched how he was progressing along the course on the scoreboard. I didn't really get to see a lot of his shots until the highlight wrap at the end of the night, and I saw all those 50-foot bombs he was making. 16th hole, it looked like if he hit it on the green he was going to make it, so I was glad that wasn't in the playoff. But, yeah, I was just watching how he progressed.
The first round seems like someone always kind of pops up there that's unusual. And then he hung around the second round, and you're like, wow, this is Tom Watson. And I played with him in the practise round at the Masters, so I knew he was a solid player -- not that he's a solid player, but he's a solid ball-striker, still. And then the third round comes and he won't go away, and he's still playing awesome and he's leading.
And then I watched him -- the only time I actually watched him live on television was after I finished 18 over in the locker room. I watched him play the last, because that was determining whether I had more golf to play or whether I was runner-up.

Q. I guess your closest call before this would have been '01 at Southern Hills in a major. Did that linger for a while? Has it ever been something that you've thought about since then for even all these years later and wondered about, if that maybe was going to be your best chance?
STEWART CINK: Yeah, of course. I think that would be -- it wouldn't be human to not wonder if, you know, would another one -- is that going to be my closest one. So, yeah, there were always some doubts there. But there were also a lot of positives that week for me. I came really close to winning. I hung there right to the end, birdied the 17th hole on Sunday to pull into a tie. So there were good things and there were bad things.
It lingered a little bit. It was embarrassing. That's golf. You put yourself out there in front of the world stage, and sometimes you're going to be embarrassed a little bit. But now hopefully I can move past it. I've had a couple wins since then, too, but this is a new chapter for me.

Q. Really following on from a question at the front, you've effectively put a red pen through what would have been one of the greatest stories in golfing history. Can you fathom that, understand that, or understandably, are you just engulfed by the joy of winning this competition?
STEWART CINK: Yeah, I'm engulfed by the joy, for sure. I can understand, though, the mystique that came really close to developing here and the story.
But in the end, you know, it's a tournament to see who lasts the longest. It's a survival test out there, as you look at the scoreboard with the winning score being -2. It's a survival test, and I don't know what else to say.
I don't feel ashamed. I don't feel disappointed. I'm pleased as punch that I've won this tournament, and also proud of the way Tom Watson played because he showed -- not only did he show how great a golfer he is, but he showed what a great game we all play, the longevity that can exist, for a guy to come out and compete. We thought Jack Nicklaus, we thought he had hung the moon when we won the Masters at 46. This is 13 years on from that, if I'm correct, right? 13 more years of age. So it just says a lot about golf.

Q. What precipitated the changes you made, and how long ago did you do that, and how frustrated were you, and specifically what are the things that you did to change the most?
STEWART CINK: Okay. Well, what precipitated the changes were -- basically the same thing that precipitates most things on out on the PGA Tour, and that's bad play. Last year I played a good year, but the second half of the year really stunk.
This year the start of the year I sputtered, didn't play great, took some time off, came back, and at The Players made the cut, but then I shot a high score, like 77 maybe on Saturday, missed the third-round cut. And I just decided then that, okay, this isn't working. Whatever I'm doing is not working. I was putting poorly. And really when I putt poorly it affects the rest of my game, that's the same way most golfers are.
So I decided just to totally overhaul my putting, and it started with removal of the long putter. I went to the short putter. I needed to change my mental outlook, too, because I really had not much of a pre-shot routine working, decided that I needed to get something more regimented, a pre-shot routine I could lean on under pressure. And I thought if I stayed with the long putter that it would be too easy for me to fall back into the old warm and fuzzy feelings. So I decided to scrap everything and start over with the short putter.
And really that's about it. I really didn't change a lot of my golf swing. I'm always tinkering with that. But my swing is not -- I don't have the kind of -- I don't have the kind of golf game where I have to be dead-on mechanically to play well. I play a lot of feel-type shots, a lot of just, you know, it's kind of gut-instinct type golf I play. And I don't have the flashiest short game.
I'm one of the longer players but not a bomber, not the longest. I don't hit many fairways. I just play golf. And I play it how I find it.
So with the exception of the putting change, I really didn't have to do a whole lot of changing. But when I started putting better at Colonial and then Memorial, then U.S. Open was okay, all of a sudden the confidence started coming back a little bit. I actually believed that I could win this tournament starting today. And in the past or a few months ago, I probably wouldn't have believed that.
MALCOLM BOOTH: Stewart, many congratulations, thanks you for coming in.

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