Why is Stewart Cink succeeding at 47? He has a pre-round ‘system’ to thank

Stewart Cink and Reagan Cink

Stewart Cink and his son and caddie, Reagan, on Friday on the 14th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links.

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Stewart Cink is 47, and he’s been on Tour for over 20 years. In his words, he doesn’t have “unlimited boundless energy.” So the nights before his rounds now, like his ones this week at the RBC Heritage, he and his son and caddie, 24-year-old Reagan, plot out a plan. 

The sessions wrap up pretty simply. 

“We kind of drop this blob on the green that says: Hit it here,” Cink said. 

Easy enough. Good enough. Through two rounds at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., Cink has taken 126 shots, par has been 142 and no other player is within five of his lead. The one who’s closest, Corey Conners, is 18 years his junior. Cink’s got Sungjae Im, who’s seven shots back, by 24 years.

How? Cink said himself Friday that “the guys that come out here year after year get better and better, younger and younger, and they don’t make it any easier.” He said, too, that players are inundated with info — “a lot more than there used to be.”

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Back to the night before. 

Cink called it his system. It plays out like this. 

“Well, we do a good job with our mapping of hole locations and where the holes are relative to, like, bunkers and trouble and all that stuff, and we kind of grade everything,” he said. “So the night before, we look at wind direction, and so the night before, we’re already planning for what kind of shots are going to come up from around the green based on certain wind and certain hole locations, and we just kind of go from there and make our plan.”

Off the tee is different. 

“The tee shots are dictated by where the tees are placed,” he said. “We don’t know any of that. We do all that work ahead of time, too, but it’s more vague. It’s more like distance zones we’re trying to hit to. If they move the tee 50 yards up, we just take 50 yards off our zone and say, well, it must be a 6-iron off the tee today.”

From there, all that’s left is the swing. He and Reagan call it bludgeoning. Hit at the green blob, hit at the green blog, hit at the green blog and ”the golf course will just yield.”

“If you just come into every hole, like, blind and you’re like — you walk up to it and then start making your decision, that eats away at your reserve of energy, especially at my age,” Cink said. “It’s kind of a conservation plan that we came up with.”

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We. Cink says this isn’t working without Reagan. He started looping for dad at the Safeway Open late last fall, and dad won that week. Stewart said it’s equal parts knowing what Stewart Cink golf looks like, and what it doesn’t, then “when we have choices to make he’s really good about reminding me what the prudent one is.”

Take the 426-yard, par-4 12th on Friday, where he hit his tee shot left and into the trees. 

“I had a little narrow opening that I could have gone at the green or I could have just chipped it out and had a nice comfortable wedge shot up there,” Cink said, “and I was telling Reagan, I don’t really like going on that aggressive, little, narrow, thread-the-gap kind of shot because if I was successful and was going to miss left or right, it was going to leave a difficult shot up towards the hole, and Reagan I thought was really good and I was proud of him for suggesting it. 

“He said, Dad, you don’t have to get this ball all the way to the green if you go that direction; you can easily leave it 20 or 30 yards short of the green and have a pitch right up the green. I think that’s your goal here.

“So instead of trying to hit it 160, I hit it 130, left myself 40 yards and had a straightforward shot. Now, I still had to execute the shot and make par, get up-and-down, but that was an example of how a caddie and somebody like Reagan with a comfort level to suggest that can influence a player who may be thinking other ways, and sometimes the brain doesn’t just quite work like it normally does when you start getting adrenaline and all the cortisol and all the things mixed up.”

The system was super. Caddie and player and father and son then went off to plot out their Saturday plan. 

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor