One of the most experienced players still operating on the PGA Tour, Stewart Cink, at 49, says that honestly facing his fears was a key moment in his golfing career.
By working on maintaining his mental focus, and playing smart by forming a strategy for tournaments ahead of time, he tells RSNG that he’s managed to offload some of the stress of competition, and free up his playing…
RSNG We’ve now had enough time back on Tour to see where everyone is at in their game and you have managed to get back to winning form?
STEWART CINK, PGA GOLFER “Yeah, that’s right and what a relief that was to get on the board not just once, but twice. If I’m honest with myself though, I am always trying to properly identify the areas where I am losing strokes and I guess that will never change.
“It’s always hard but the game of golf is so complex and you wrack your brains constantly about what you are doing, what you can do to be a little bit better… or less bad! That’s my ongoing goal, that I need to keep cleaning it up.
“Just like everybody on the PGA Tour, you have lots of good stuff in your game but it’s the bad stuff that wrecks you and you’ve got to figure out where the unnecessary mistakes are coming from.”
RSNG Nobody gets any younger, but is age such a bad thing in golf?
STEWART CINK “Well, I am in my late forties and I would say that despite one or two injuries, my main problem is focus. I don’t feel old, but my focus is sometimes a little bit harder to find than it was.
“When those ‘falling asleep at the wheel’ moments happen, suddenly there’s a ball out of bounds or a three-putt from 10 feet, that’s the kind of thing that I am trying to manage now, at my age.”
RSNG You have achieved so much in the sport, you can surely allow yourself a few bad days; but how do you regain focus?
STEWART CINK “One of the big things I’ve done is to have my son Reagan as my caddie and that’s been a huge benefit. He and I have really recognised that taking the decision-making load off competition days is a big factor for me.
“You get up every day and you make your decisions, and most of these are made without even thinking about it – I’m the same way. But every single decision that you make from the time you get up – no matter how big – has a cost, whether that hits you in the morning, the afternoon, or later in the week.
“So, Reagan and I have tried to offload as much decision-making as possible when it comes to golf, to the night before. That means that we don’t have to do too much the next day either before or during rounds. We’ve implemented something of a strategy, so when we step up to the ball the decision is already made.
“You will always give yourself the opportunity to adapt, but the idea has helped me stay a little fresher and a little longer.”
I was just dealing with some of that anxiety on the course about performance – I was trying to live up to my own expectations
RSNG You’ve been one of a few players who have used psychologists over the years, and no more so than when you successfully beat a case of ‘the yips’?
STEWART CINK “Well, I started talking to a guy called Dr. Preston Waddington – whose technical title is a psychotherapist – and his job is to talk you through a few of the things that you are afraid of or that are bothering you, things that you are nervous about, but also things that you want or you love… basically anything which has a huge impact on your life, positive or negative way.
“So, you try and dig down in your past and figure out environmentally what might have helped form those beliefs, opinions or whatever. That really helped to uncover some of my fears on the golf course and I think that it’s pretty normal for someone to be afraid when they get into certain situations when they’re playing golf – especially when you’re new.
“You’re unpacking your life and you sometimes overdo that because you think that it’s happening way more than it is and that’s natural. In my case, I was just dealing with some of that anxiety on the course about performance. I was trying to live up to my own expectations.”
RSNG Was any of that down to you thinking about winning early on in your career and then going on a winless streak?
STEWART CINK “Yeah, absolutely that. You think it’s a fluke, you wonder what you’re doing wrong. I always work on asking a question and receiving an answer, like marching orders. I will always want to know why and that doesn’t just apply to golf, it’s also other things, as well.
“Dr Waddington helped me walk through the whys of certain things. Why I was out playing golf in the first place, what my goals were, and he helped me break things down into more simplistic terms, and help me get into a place where I could think things through.”
RSNG You saw Tiger Woods at his absolute best, and for fans that was great. But it must have been tough as a competitor?
STEWART CINK “One thing is for certain, the money that is available in golf – both through sponsorship and prize money – is really down to one person, and that’s Tiger. He just raised the bar in so many ways, but also playing with Tiger so many times on Sundays when he won and when I won, sometimes I played near him, watched him on TV, you learn – or certainly if you want to compete, you have to.
“In the end, I am just trying to be as good as I can at golf, as good as I can at living my life and being the person that I want to be. Wins and missed cuts and all of these things are in a secondary category which takes care of itself.”
We welcome the crowds back to watch in person, because it was getting lonely out there without them
RSNG What are your thoughts on spectators since they’ve returned to the courses?
STEWART CINK “The huge majority are great, obviously and it’s been amazing to have them back. But the new personality – which has been coming for a while – is because it’s not just a golf fan, but a mainstream sports spectator.”
“We obviously want golf to be one of the biggest sports in the world, so in that area we have to accept all of the things that come with that. That includes a different type of crowd shouting things after drives.
“Patrick Reed has come in for some unsavory things and I like him, he’s a great guy. Yes, he may well bring on some of the attention he gets himself, but at the end of the day, he’s a golfer, he’s competitive and he’s passionate. That absolutely does not excuse some of the stuff he gets.
“So, as I say, we welcome the crowds back to watch in person, because it was getting lonely out there without them, but they need to respect our players.
“I think it will be fine. There is a lot of excitement about getting back out there – from spectators and from players. People are breaking free again after so long being told they had to fall in line. It’s a natural reaction.”
RSNG How do you feel about the future?
STEWART CINK “I’m always optimistic, always positive. I know I have had a good career and there are so many guys younger than me progressing through the ranks, and that’s great to see – but it doesn’t diminish my ambition one bit or make me think I can’t still win titles.”
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