Stewart Cink: Ryder Cup memories leave a lasting impact

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Stewart Cink: Ryder Cup memories leave a lasting impact

PGA Tour

Stewart Cink: Ryder Cup memories leave a lasting impact

(Note: This story appears in the November issue of Golfweek.)

It’s hard not to think about the Ryder Cup this time of year with how fresh all my memories still are. I made my first team in 2002 and played my last in 2010, and I remember being a nervous wreck before my first match in almost every Ryder Cup.

I knew I was going to play with Jim Furyk for my first match ever in 2002 at The Belfry and I knew I was going to sit out the morning matches, which did not help the nerves of a rookie Stewart Cink. My game had not been in very good shape that year, and I didn’t have a very good season. Probably one of my worst as a member of the Tour, but I had qualified during the 2001 season before the Cup was delayed a full year.

I was already feeling a little bit like the odd man out, the guy who wasn’t hitting on all cylinders, and here I am sitting out the first match. All the excitement and everything going on, and I just couldn’t wait to get going. I wanted something to do.

Furyk and I had played a practice round for our alternate-shot match that afternoon and talked about the tee shots where one of us felt more comfortable than the other. We decided on a strategy that he was going to tee off on the even-numbered holes and I was going to take the odds.

So here we are, it’s time to go warm up on the range. I went through my warm-up and it was hard to breathe. My heart was racing. I came out to the putting green about 10 minutes before the bell goes off and I heard the next group in front of us go over to the tee, that first Ryder Cup tee, with the chanting and both sides going at each other.

I walked straight over to Jim and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been thinking about it, I think you should take the odds.’ He knew exactly what I meant.

That opening tee shot was probably the most innocuous on the course. It was about a 230-yard layup into a short par 4 with a pretty wide landing area, but I did not want to hit that opening tee shot and told Jim to take it.

“Alright, no problem,” he said.

His tee shot set up perfectly for my approach. It landed in the first cut and the ball couldn’t have been teed up better. I was standing behind the ball with an 8-iron, looking toward the flagstick with the crowd all around the green, and I remember asking myself, what’s my pre-shot routine again?

Once I figured that out I made my practice swing and hit a nice shot right to about 20 feet and thought, ‘Phew.’ Big sigh of relief. The stress is over. Then our opponents had a gimme par and Furyk decides to go ahead and try to win the hole and knocks it about 4 feet past. There goes my heart rate again. Maybe he was trying to get back at me for the first tee shot or something. But I made the putt and we eventually won the match.

Furyk already had been on teams at Valderrama and Brookline, and I was quite shocked after the round when he came up to me and gave me a high five and told me it was his first-ever win in team play.

Six years later I was part of a winning team for the first time, and the feeling of elation and satisfaction lasted a long time. Back then the Tour Championship was played the week after the Ryder Cup, and someone at East Lake had made up a bunch of tees that said something like, “Team USA: Ryder Cup champions.” All of us from the team were hitting shots on the range and on the course, and not a single person picked a tee up all day. We left all the tees out there for everyone else to see.

Winning the British Open the next year was a culmination of a life of work and dedication, and that obviously felt really good too, but as soon as I teed it up the next time I felt like I was right back to, what have you done for me lately? The Ryder Cup lingered in my heart and my mind for a lot longer.

Some of my best friends on Tour today are some of the players and caddies and spouses I’ve been paired with in the Ryder Cup. We all share those memories, and it’s a common bond. You go in golf’s version of the trenches and build those relationships and they last a long, long time. That’s the endearing memory I have. It’s like a living memory.

Editor’s note: Stewart Cink is a five-time Ryder Cup competitor and brand ambassador for the GM BuyPower Card.

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