AKRON, Ohio – This is the tale of British Open champion Stewart Cink and The Hitchhiker. Contrary to the sound of it, it’s a comedy, not a horror story.
Off since winning at Turnberry, a refreshed Cink showed up on the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational range Tuesday eager to practice and willing to talk about his past two weeks. The conversation quickly got around to the hitchhiker.
“The funniest comments (about the British) have come from people who don’t know me,” Cink said.
Like the hitchhiker his friends picked up last week in Montana. Cink was there hiking, rafting and mountain climbing with his pals at Glacier National Park, which he describes as his favorite summer spot on earth. After one such hike, Cink & Co. hopped in two cars. As they did, a hiker they didn’t know stuck out his thumb. The lead car picked him up.
“It’s not out of the ordinary,” Cink said, implying hikers look out after hikers.
When the man got in the car and the conversation got around to golf, the stranger said, “Doesn’t it stink what happened to Tom Watson?”
Cink’s laughing friends informed the man that “Stewart Cink is in the car behind us.”
“No!” the man said.
Yes. But the lead car didn’t stop and show off the evidence. So the hitchhiker perhaps doesn’t know for sure whether they were telling the truth.
• Cink came to Firestone on Tuesday fresh if not rusty. In the two weeks since winning at Turnberry, he practiced just one day. “I’m ready to go mentally,” he said. “I don’t know if I am physically, but I’ve got a couple of days.”
Other notable Cink-isms, post Claret Jug ownership:
– On his quietest moment since: “It was on the flight home. My wife and I both said, ‘Wow, it really happened.’ ”
– On golf’s Twitter king being in Montana without computer and cell phone: “I like having the phone with me, Twittering and texting. So it was somewhat frustrating not having it.”
– On winning another major: “The feeling of winning one was so sweet that I don’t want to let time go by before winning another.”
– On a major reason behind his Turnberry success: “I don’t believe in expectations. A big key is I didn’t have any expectations.”
• Starting with the 2006 British Open at Hoylake, Tiger Woods has won 21 of his 39 PGA Tour starts, or 53.8 percent. What that means is that he has gotten better and probably is getting better, considering that he pretty much has been a 30-percenter over most of his career.
His percentage figures to get better over the next fortnight. This week he’s back at Firestone, where he has won six times, tied for second and finished fourth twice. And next week he’ll be at the PGA Championship at par-72 Hazeltine. Woods is at his lethal best at par-72 majors, particularly at those places not named Augusta National in recent years.
• On the Firestone putting green Tuesday, your correspondent ran into Lee Westwood, who had the British Open lead alone when teeing off 15 but finished a shot out of the playoff after bogeying three of the final four holes. Considering he then talked of having a “sick” feeling, the question Tuesday was, “How do you get over that one?”
Westwood’s answer reinforced the notion that every player needs to be his own psychologist. “Take the positives,” the Englishman said. “That’s the only way you can do it.”
Anything else is wasted energy.
• Danny Lee is the latest evidence that too much advice is bad advice.
Lee, at 19 the youngest player ever in a World Golf Championship event, used the word “confusing” at least twice Tuesday when talking about all the advice he has received from PGA Tour players and instructors.
Lee, the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion who turned pro after the Masters, talks of being eager to learn. But there’s a line between learning well and being bombarded with information.
“Some players give good advice, and some give wrong advice for me,” Lee said. “I’m a different person. I have to learn what the right answers are and the wrong answers so I can play and think better.”
The best advice he has received? Lee says it came from Gary Player at the Masters: “You have a good swing, so don’t listen to people and change that. Believe in your swing and go play.”
And the worst counsel?
“A coach told me he thought I had a bad backswing,” Lee said. “So I worked hard on it and struggled. I was awful (last week) at the Buick. Now I remember what Gary Player told me. I think that’s right.”
• Latest evidence that this isn’t your grandfather’s or Jack Nicklaus’ PGA Tour: The 80-man field at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational features 52 players from countries outside the United States.
PGA stands for Passport Golf Association.