Open Championship contender’s travel woes leave him in deeply awkward spot
Stewart Cink was scheduled to fly across the Atlantic last Sunday night. With wheels down in England on Monday morning, that would have given him three days to kick his jet lag and prep for the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
But then came what has become an all-too-common headache for air travelers in recent months: a canceled flight.
“The best we could do was fly 24 hours later from Atlanta,” Cink said Thursday after a stellar opening-round 68 left him just a couple of shots off the early lead.
Eh, whatever, right? It happens. Well, yeah, sort of — only in Cink’s case, the nixed flight wasn’t just inconvenient, it also came with the added awkwardness of him having to sheepishly tweak one of his sponsors.
“We had some travel difficulties, and because of what is right there on my shirt, I’m not going to tell you what happened,” Cink said.
Cink was speaking of the Delta Air Lines logo emblazoned on his pullover. Yep, the same airline that had Cink arriving to the Open a day later than scheduled just so happens to be one of the companies he endorses. (For what’s it worth, that’s not Cink’s only Delta connection — his son and sometimes caddie Reagan worked for the airline for two years. According to Reagan’s LinkedIn page, he interned in the Flight Operations department from 2018-20 helping to “automate small manual processes to save time and money across the division.”)
The good news for Cink? He didn’t let the layover get him out of, well, sync. The 50-year-old, who is playing in his 24th Open this week, leaned into his experience and optimized the time that he did have.
“We had to really organize ourselves as far as — we had to sort of balance rest, preparation on the course,” Cink said of he and wife Lisa, who caddies for him. “We had a super-long day on Tuesday, and I got in trouble for that. Lisa got mad at me because I kept at it too long. We’re still trying to get there, but that’s one of the great things about golf, is when the gun goes off and you start in the tournament, you’ve got that adrenaline, and adrenaline does wonders for your jet lag.”
And then some.
Cink didn’t make a single bogey or worse in his first round. That effort paired with three birdies (at 5, 7 and 15) led to a three-under round that had reporters asking him whether a player of his age could win this week.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Cink said. “I just have to look back a few years to Phil Mickelson winning the PGA. I think that was probably a more difficult course than this.”
Cink was, of course, referencing Mickelson’s magical run at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in 2021, when he became the oldest player — at 50 years, 11 months, and 7 days — to win a major championship.
Cink himself also won on the PGA Tour in 2021, picking up his eighth Tour title at the RBC Heritage.
“I’m not that different of a golfer than I was then,” he said. “I have no doubts that I can win this. It’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take some really, really exceptional play on my behalf, but it’s in there.”
Cink also has something else going for him: He already has proven to himself that he can win this tournament, triumphing at Royal Turnberry in 2009. That was the week when he held of a hard-charging 59-year-old named Tom Watson, which, to Cink, is yet one more indicator that a 50-something can prevail this week.
“I watched Tom do that in 2009, and I’m still way younger than he was then,” Cink said.
Among the keys to staying in contention, Cink said, will be keeping the space between his ears sharp.
“That’s what I’ve found since I’ve been in my late 40s and now 50, is that you just kind of get fatigued,” he said. “I don’t mean like physically tired, just mentally sort of get drained.”
How best to maintain that mental fortitude?
“I really try to offload everything before the rounds, and if I have something that I’ve got to take care of, I usually take care of it the night before so that the day of is completely offloaded as far as decision-making,” he said. “I feel like I can make decisions for like a finite amount of time.
“I just don’t do any decision-making before the rounds because — it even goes to like figuring out a game plan for all the hole locations and everything. All that stuff is done the night before so when I get to the course I don’t have to be out there deciding like, now what’s this pin? Is it right next to that mound or is it over the bunker?
Cink also was quick to credit Lisa for the work she does on the bag.
“She’s kind of almost like a therapist out there for me,” he said. “She just knows me so well. The psychology of golf and the mentality and the emotional ebbs and flows are just to me a huge part of the game, and it’s something I really enjoy kind of learning about myself and monitoring, and she knows all that about me, and she can also be a good monitor like that. She’s really good about keeping my heart in the game and my head in the game.
“When things start to get off the rails a little bit, she’s there and really good about kind of reminding me about getting back where our two feet are, in the present. While she might not be as good about helping me decide if it’s a 4- or 5-iron, she’s really good about keeping me sort of where I need to be my best out there on the course.”
Which is exactly what Cink will need to deliver if he aims to become a two-time Open champion come Sunday.