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August 11, 2009

Stewart Cink


KELLY ELBIN: Stewart Cink, the 2009 Open Champion, joining us at the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Defeated Tom Watson in a playoff last month at Turnberry to win his first major championship. This will be his 13th PGA Championship.
How does it feel to come in as a major champion.
STEWART CINK: It really does feel great. The best part about it, there's a lot of things that come along with winning a major. But the fan support has been probably the most surprising. Even out there on a day like today where it's a Tuesday, there's a lot of people out there. It is really crowded. And there's a lot of comments from the crowd. A lot of support, a lot of congrats, and it's just really good feeling. It actually instills even more confidence. It's been a great experience.
KELLY ELBIN: Just some general thoughts on the golf course, what you've seen so far, please.
STEWART CINK: I've only seen the back nine so far. And it's definitely living up to its billing. It's monster long. Just long. So many long holes. Wearing out the 2, 3, four, five, irons out there and the driver, of course. And it's going to be a real test out there. We'll see how they set the course up. I have a feeling they'll juggle some tees around and make it a little more interesting.
When you look down the list on the back nine: 475, 642, 248, 518 par-4, 606. Just never ends.
KELLY ELBIN: Stewart tied for 17th in the PGA Championship in 2002.

Q. About the time you probably turned pro and started playing this, it had a reputation as being the place where first-time major winners won this tournament. Lately, it's obviously changed, if you look at the board. But the one trend that's kind of kept up is that guys who usually win the PGA have done something that year, whether it was David Toms who had that great year and even the Beemer; how much difference does it make coming into the last major proving yourself at the end of the year whether it was a major or anything else?
STEWART CINK: I think it certainly makes a difference between the years of the golfer. For me, for instance, I didn't win any majors for about 50 starts. Then I won one, and now all of a sudden I feel like I can do it every time. It's a huge confidence builder. So it can only help.
After the Open, I've paced myself pretty well. I only played one tournament; that was the Bridgestone last week. I am still feeling really fresh and eager get out and compete. I don't know exactly what the list looks like as far as winners of the PGA the last eight or 10 years. I haven't paid much attention to it.
But if I could just ride the confidence through this thing here, I feel like I'm playing really well. I don't see why I wouldn't be somewhat in the thick of it at the end.

Q. Secondly, you've answered this in different parcels over the last month or so, do you find it at all amazing, the what-could-have-been aspect of this year? We could have had a Watson; we could have had Phil Mickelson returning from Amy's scare almost winning the U.S. Open; and Kenny Perry at age almost a billion winning the Masters; do you find that fascinating at all as a player perspective? And congratulations on the Open, by the way.
STEWART CINK: For a minute there, I thought maybe Tom did win the Open. (Laughter).
I hadn't really thought about that to be honest. But it's really true. But the Watson story blows them all away. I mean, to me the Kenny Perry story was a little bit of a stretch by the writers that -- I don't think that was really a story, because Kenny's not really a very old 48 -- or is he 48? I mean, the guy has got some serious game. He's winning on a regular basis.
So for him to win in a major didn't feel to me like, gosh, this old guy might actually have a chance to win it. I think the Watson story did feel that way.
And certainly Mickelson with the health problems, well chronicled, we all know what's happening with the Mickelson family. Would have been a great story, too. It still was a great story that he contended; he made the push at the end.
So, yeah, it's a good point that "what could have been" would have been a heck of a story to be written for the majors this year.
KELLY ELBIN: For the record Kenny Perry turned 49 yesterday.

Q. When you won the Open, did it feel like a culmination of your career? Did it feel like a starting point in some way?
STEWART CINK: It felt like both. It really did. Because I never have really been the kind of guy that thought of myself as a must-win major guy. Like a lot of people have asked me now that the monkey's off your back how does it feel. I never thought there was a monkey.
I feel it's a jumping-off point for me from a confidence standpoint. And we already visited the crowd support. That's big for me. It's not something I'm accustomed to because I'm usually the under the radar guy in the group I hear the "go Phil," "go Anthony," "go Camilo" but never hear "go Stewart" unless someone chuckles after it. Now it's a different story. And that really feels good. I don't feel it was a culmination because I still have a lot of years ahead of me hopefully. But in a way it could be considered both.

Q. How patient or what was your mind-set in recent majors? I mean Phil, Harrington was talking about today how he always admired the way Phil always said eventually I'm going to win majors, plural, went through that long stretch and Padraig went through a stretch, and you obviously played in a lot of majors before you won for the first time. What was that like? How patient were you?
STEWART CINK: It depends on what you mean by "patient." Because you could mean like on the golf course with my strategy how patient I was; or you could mean how patient was I sitting back after major after major after major and losing and losing and losing.
Again, that indicates that there's like a monkey on my back or some expectation. You know, I contended at the U.S. Open in 2001 and I was really close. I think we all know what happened with the short putt and Retief and the 3-putt and all that.
I knew I could get close, but I never really put too much thought into the question whether I would ever be able to win one. So I never faced that kind of a expectation.
When I think of like the monkey I think of Phil because Phil went through it for about two or three years, will he or won't he. It was will Phil or won't Phil. And he's won a few.
I never felt like I was in that position. So to me I felt like when I got in contention at the Open, that it was just maybe a chance, maybe the door had cracked open and I needed to jump through it. Because it's not set in stone that you're going to have an opportunity like that all the time in your career, or maybe never again. So I wanted to just take advantage of it when I could.

Q. Why hadn't you thought that way? You obviously had been out here a long time and done well and won other events.
STEWART CINK: It's just in 13 years, I figured out about myself that I operate better and more efficiently as sort of a small picture goals kind of guy. I try to take care of every shot, be prepared for every shot and stay in the thought process on every shot. And I feel like winning is more of a reward than it is a goal. And if I stick to the small picture goals and just do the best I can every shot and plan the right strategy on the course, execute the right strategy, stay aggressive in putts, then the rewards will come.
And so that's why I never really thought of myself as I have to set my schedule up this year so I can peak at the Masters and I can peak again at the U.S. Open, because I'm just trying to take care of the small picture.

Q. How much credit do you give your swing coach and your sports psychologist for your success? And if Tiger didn't exist, would you even have sports psychologists on TOUR?
STEWART CINK: The answer to the second part of your question is absolutely, because we were all using sports psychologists before Tiger was even in college.
Bob Rotella has been around for a while. He started, if I'm mother mistaken, with a guy named Tom Kite that had a pretty good record in the early '90s. So the sports psychologists have been around.
As far as credit, when I started working with Butch in 2002, we pretty much deconstructed my swing and rebuilt it to take advantage of my size and give me a lot more power. Totally changed, revamped my arsenal that I had to play with. I had a lot of weapons in my game. So that was a process that took about six or seven years. And I had some good stretches and some bad stretches.
So that's something that feels like the changes that I made back then are definitely, at this point they were worth it.
With my sports psychologist, I started working with Morris Pickens only recently. So it's a totally different feel as far as the credit. He and I started working. I dove in headfirst with all the drills he teaches. Obviously changed the short putter that was more my thing than anybody else's. But just rebuilt my entire putting and short game approach to the game of golf. And it happened so quickly, and the rewards came so quickly after all the practice I put in, that it feels different, but they both deserve equal credit.
And I'm just so pleased that I stepped up and talked to Butch Harmon one day after being a little intimidated talking to Butch Harmon, working with Tiger Woods at the time. Just to go up to Tiger Woods' coach and saying, "Hey I want some of that." But I did. And he was nice to help. And he still is.
With Mo, I did the same thing because Zach is one of my best friends out on TOUR. And Mo and Zach have worked together for a long time. I asked Zach one day when we were skiing this spring would you or would you mind my calling him, because I'm in a place where I would want to make a transition. I didn't indicate the magnitude of the transition I was looking to make.
But Zach said, "No way, call him." He kind of explained their approach. And so that was only like three months ago. Here we are.

Q. As well as Tiger has been playing lately, how would you assess his chances this week?
STEWART CINK: I'd say he's got a pretty good chance. Probably better than anybody else in the field. How is that for an answer? (Laughter).
I mean, the guy's -- he's driving it pretty well. He's got a short game that history has never known, he's got the clutch putting that history has never known, and he's got the ultimate tank of confidence to draw from. So case closed.

Q. You talked about being sort of a small picture kind of guy. How much of the game is mental for you that way and how much is physical? And how much is it easier for you now to figure out the mental aspects of the game and what you have to do as opposed to, say, ten years ago?
STEWART CINK: It's actually probably tougher now to figure out the mental aspects of the game than it was ten years ago, because golf -- the good shots and the bad shots all hang around in your mind. Some more than others. I mean some players more than others.
So the longer you play, you have highs and lows that they both stick around in there. And sometimes the lows are hard to kick out. So after 13 years, you've got more of both, and you've got to figure out how to deal with them a little bit more. It is a little bit more complicated.
Certainly after a win like the Open, the confidence kind of takes over some of that decision. But confidence is short term. And I've got to make sure that I stay on top of things with my workouts and my practicing, and just keep doing the same things that got me there so that I can experience that again.
Because it's easy to think you can ride that confidence forever, and it won't stay. Golf, it's not a static entity.

Q. I'm sure you've been asked this before, but how has your life changed? Any favorite moment since Turnberry that maybe illustrates how things are different and how others perceive you, or something funny, maybe?
STEWART CINK: Well, my life has not been very crazy, first of all. I thought it might get a little crazy there. But I took two weeks off right after the win and had some good help from the media staff of the PGA TOUR. They kind of helped me condense at all media stuff into about three really big heavy days.
And other than that, I got to spend four or five days at my lake house, and a week in Montana, which was awesome. So I got to really relax and take it in.
Definitely, I've been identified in the airports and restaurants more, which is -- it's okay. If you don't like that stuff and you're playing professional golf, then you're kind of doing the wrong thing because that's sort of the goal.
So things haven't changed a whole, whole lot. But most of it, literally all of it, has been in a good way. I have to learn to manage my time a little bit more. But that's something I needed to do anyway.
So it's all been very positive and it's been a great experience.

Q. Any funny moments, anything a fan might have said to you?
STEWART CINK: Yeah, the best story of all was we were out in Montana, Glacier National Park, and there was 12 of us. We had two Suburbans. When you're out there in the national park, we're hiking trails and it's outdoor stuff. It's a different kind of mentality than it is other places.
So picking up the hitchhiker or being a hitchhiker is totally commonplace. It's not legal, but it's completely accepted by everybody. So one day after hiking a long trail, we're coming out of the park area, headed down to get dinner in this little town about ten miles. And there's a hitchhiker coming out of the park headed our way. He stopped. The Suburban in front of me picked him up. I was in the back one. This guy was probably in his 20s or 30s.
So we go the ten miles, and all this trans expired without me knowing, but along the way, you pass a little golf course in the village, and this guy, he had no idea who any of us were. It was me and just a bunch of my friends from home.
He said, "Right there on that green by the road there a bear picked up my ball one day and slobbered all over it. What's the ruling?" And one of my best friends, a pro at East Lake at Atlanta was in the van.
He said "You replace the ball and wipe off the slobber."
Then the guy changed gears abruptly and said, "Man, can you believe what happened to Tom Watson?" (Laughter) And all the friends in the van, they were like, ohh, their radar perked up and they turned to him and said, "We kind of liked that because Stewart Cink is one our best friends and he's in the Suburban right back there."
And he said, "Yeah, right, let's stop and I'll get his autograph." They dropped him off, and he still doesn't know to this point. Unless he picks up on the story someplace in the newspaper he'll know it was him.

Q. He never stopped to check it out?
STEWART CINK: No. He said he was going to his grandma's house. They dropped him off at a little motor inn, so who knows.

Q. I don't think you can get that in 140 characters.
STEWART CINK: No, that would take more than 140.

Q. This is a Twitter question. Do you see the day when you'll be Twittering during rounds, rain delays after rounds; do you think you'll be Twittering with the way social media is becoming these days?
STEWART CINK: I don't see it happening during the rounds because it's a rule-of-golf issue. You're not allowed to use electronic devices like a phone or anything for information or to pass out information.
So I would like to sometime. I think that would be cool. But it's not ever going to happen. The rules of golf aren't going to change to allow that anytime soon as far as I'm concerned.

Q. As many times as you've been in contention, and this is off of light of what happened last week with Tiger and Padraig in the last group, have you ever been put on the clock; and just your thoughts in being in that final group, isn't there added pressure that makes it difficult?
STEWART CINK: Yeah, there certainly is added pressure. And going back over the years, I can't recall if I've been put on the clock or not in the last group. But certainly if a group's behind, whether it's the first group or the last group, and the rules are pretty clear on this, you know, then usually they'll issue a warning and say you guys need to catch up or we'll have to put you on the clock and give you a two-hole window to close the gap; or, you get on the clock.
And every player out here will be on the clock at some point. You have to have a strategy. You know, it's no different than your strategy for playing the 11th hole here: Are you going to lay up or try to bomb it down by the green? That's a strategy. If you get put on the clock, you have to have a strategy for that, too, and how you're going to handle yourself is part of that strategy.
So when you're under the stress of the final group and it's a battle like two heavyweights going at it like last week, then certainly does add a different element of a different type of stress to the ball game. But it's a test, just like any of the other obstacles you face on the golf course.
And I talked to the rules officials today, actually, the ones that were involved, and one of the -- I can't remember which one said it, but one of the guys said they have look the rest of the field in the eye. If they didn't put them on the clock, if the field came up and said, "Hey those guys were a hole and a half behind, how come they weren't timed." They have to be ready for that.
The rule is clear on that. They put on the clock because they were a little behind. Who knows if it affected Harrington on 16 or not.

Q. You talked to John or Slugger, one of those?
STEWART CINK: No, not Slugger. I did speak to John and Andy McFee. I don't know if Andy was involved. But those two guys came up.

Q. Can you talk about Rory McIlroy, he's a young kid going through the majors. You've seen him play. Can you talk about his potential for just a second?
STEWART CINK: Rory McIlroy. I've not seen him play. I've seen him hit a couple of shots. I played in a group behind him somewhere I think at Bethpage. We got to a tee where we were waiting I saw him hit his drive, one of the most majestic drives I've ever seen. He's got a beautiful swing. Great rhythm. He looks like a young kid swinging the club. He's got lots of confidence. And he's really a nice kid, too.
He reminds me a lot of Sergio when Sergio came out when he was that age. I played a lot with Sergio, including ten years ago at the PGA when he hit the shot with his eyes closed. Well, I was the other one in the group that no one remembers. (Laughter).
So I remember the next week being interviewed about Sergio and calling him a breath of fresh air. And I would say that Rory is a breath of fresh air, because he's such a nice kid, and he has unbelievable potential with his golf game.

Q. I read somewhere that you somewhat froze out Tom Watson on the first hole of the playoffs. You took a little bathroom break to I guess calm down the crowd. Could you put it in your words how that transpired?
STEWART CINK: I wasn't really trying to calm down the crowd. I just really didn't want to be the one standing on the tee when Tom walked up and to hear that huge roar of applause. There was probably 70 people standing way around the tee because it was way out on the course.
I wanted to be the last one to walk out there. Because I knew they were going to be for Tom. It didn't take a genius to figure that out. And so I just took a little bathroom break and it took me an extra 30 seconds, maybe a minute, to get there.
And it was, I don't know, I felt like that was the right thing to do competitively at the time. I wasn't trying to ice anybody. I wanted to be the second one there.

Q. Kind of a semi-related question. You were asked about this at Turnberry playing a foil to Tom and what a story. How do you think it will be viewed historically five, ten years from now is it awkward at all? You tried to get your first major. You finally get your first major and it's kind-under kind of unusual circumstances for a guy like that to be the opponent.
STEWART CINK: I think the word "unusual" doesn't fit in the sentence. It doesn't do justice to what the scenario looked like at the time. No hard feelings or anything at all because I understand from a sports fan's view that that was the greatest story maybe in sports in the last generation that was trying to unfold right there.
I think many years from now people will look back and they'll remember that Watson almost won the Open. And it might take them a second, but I think they'll remember that I ended up being the winner.
I could probably solidify my own presence in that tournament by winning a few more big tournaments down the road. But as long as I have my Claret Jug with me, that can't be taken away from me. I've never really been one that gets into what the others think too much.
So I know in my heart what happened that weekend and I played really well and I was very proud. If they don't remember me at all, I'll remember it.

Q. Did you have much of a relationship with Tom before that, and have you talked to him much at all since Turnberry?
STEWART CINK: Haven't talked to him much at all since except -- well, after it was all done when we were headed up towards the room, we met him and his wife on the stairs. And it was my wife and I and our kids, and Tom and Hilary Watson.
And Tom always so nice. He stopped and had a smile on his face. And he shared a quick story about one of the experiences he had with the Clair jug when it was in his possession. And it was really -- it was almost like a moment of diffusal, because obviously when you're playing against someone in a playoff like that, it's man-to-man. It's like an adversary thing. Someone's got to win, someone's got to lose.
He was very gracious on the 18th green. And I remember kind of looking at it and telling him, "Can you believe this thing, your name's on there five times." And he was really respectful. But that meeting on the stairs was really nice. It was two or three minutes, but it was just enough for him to communicate to me without saying it in words, well done, pat on the back and go enjoy it.

Q. Just going back to what you were saying about Sergio and seeing him at 19 playing, playing with him and being a breath of fresh air, how surprised are you that he hasn't gone on to win a major in those ten years?
STEWART CINK: I hesitate to say I'm surprised he hasn't, because there's only four a year, and it's just a lot of things have to go right for you to win a major; unless your name's Tiger Woods and he wins a handful.
So I hesitate to say I'm surprised. He's got a tremendous game. Obviously I think it goes without saying that his putting and his difficulties with putting have held him back in some big tournaments. But I've heard that a lot lately about Sergio and being the one now who I guess is sort of the guy who -- the best player to never have won a major.
But I see him hit balls and I see the confidence that he has in the Ryder Cup and the fun-loving nature, and I just don't think that will last very long. I think he'll get one.
KELLY ELBIN: Open Champion, Stewart Cink, thank you very much.

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