There’s something to be said for seeing life through the eyes of your children. That will figure heavily into Stewart Cink’s livelihood this year as son Reagan Cink, a recent Georgia Tech graduate, continues to caddie for dad after their father-son partnership produced undeniable results last fall to the tune of a Safeway Open win and two other top-12 finishes.
That Cink, 47, is starting his year at Kapalua’s Plantation Course on Maui is a good indication of his resurgent PGA Tour career. He hasn’t played the winners-only event that traditionally starts the new year since 2010, when he appeared at Kapalua as the reigning British Open champion.
“It feels like a reward and you’re reminded of it constantly as soon as you look out there and see whales and look over to Molokai and it just feels a lot different,” Cink said of the setting.
Put another way, two renovations to the Plantation Course have taken place since Cink last competed here. But if it looks different to Cink, it looks brand new to his caddie. Reagan has walked many a Tour course, but “he’s never seen them from a strategy and playability type of a standpoint,” noted his dad.
Stewart Cink talks with his caddie and son Reagan on the 13th hole during the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Cink, a 24-year Tour veteran, had all but stopped playing practice rounds, but he’ll build them back in so that Reagan can get the lay of the land. He’ll build in additional rest, too, to offset more time on the course early in the week.
It speaks to Cink’s age and experience that he even has a son old enough to caddie for him on Tour. There aren’t many other men in player dining with whom he can share that experience, but there’s always been a comfort in being on the road with family.
Now that his children are grown and with his wife Lisa often traveling with him, it’s really only the family dogs who are left behind. Asked to name his best Christmas gift, Cink went straight to the Furbo, an automatic dog feeder outfitted with a camera. The machine catapults treats through the air, something the dogs caught on to quickly.
“When the dogs get close to it, they send your phone a notification and you can kind of see the video and you can talk to them,” he said. “So that’s been fun because missing the dogs, being away from home, that’s part of the tough part of traveling.”
Cink is looking around as much as he ever has in his career. When he started out as a pro, Cink said he’d zero in on Curtis Strange, Paul Azinger and Tom Lehman, sitting with them at lunch to try to figure out what made them established champions.
To start this week at Kapalua, he played a practice round with Sungjae Im, who, at 22, is almost exactly one year younger than Cink’s youngest son. Cink and Im actually live in the same neighborhood in Atlanta, Im having just bought a house there. Still, it’s the first time they’ve played together.
There’s not much insight Im can give a guy like Cink in terms of how you make this life-on-the-road thing work, as Cink noted, but there’s certainly something there when it comes to ball striking.
“It really is like he’s not a human being when he hits the ball, he’s just so consistent and his strike is so pure every time and he’s just, he’s a master at ball striking,” Cink said. “So, but now the tables are turned where I don’t look for older guys, I’m now kind of like looking at the younger players and I’m just constantly trying to learn something from either age group.”
Past the kind of old-fashioned fact-finding Cink employed at the beginning of his career, the Tour’s strokes-gained statistic also has helped a guy like Cink figure out how to remain competitive late into his career. For Cink, it has debunked a theory he’s often heard that all the best players are attacking every flag. It helps him see where he might be losing strokes to like players.
“There’s a lot of noise too,” he said, “but you find out what’s relevant to you and you can really make a big change in the way you play and your decision making and it can add up to a few shots lower every week and that can be a really big deal.”
The formula may have changed over the years, most recently with the addition of his son on the bag, but Cink’s current one seems to be working just fine.
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