Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy for Watson, happier for Cink

There is no bigger Tom Watson fan in these parts than me. And the same goes for Stewart Cink.

I never envisioned either in a playoff for the British Open title, but like seeing my two favorite teams in the World Series (it just may happen this season: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox), I was looking forward to their playoff tilt and I would have been happy with whoever won.

I have been a fan of Watson since he wasted his first opportunity to win a major title in the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He was always a fighter - extremely aggressive on the course with a tight, but rhythmic swing. He seemingly had practiced every trouble shot imaginable, but most of them didn't work that Sunday that saw Hale Irwin win the first of his three Open titles with an unlikely seven over par. Watson was known as a choker early in his career, but winning the 1975 British Open title changed that moniker forever.

But at the age of 59 with a replaced knee, he looked every bit the player that has earned eight majors.

As for Cink, I got to see his beautiful swing (Tom Weiskopf reincarnated) in person for three years when and he and his Georgia Tech teammates played here in Rocky Mount at the ACC Golf Championships at Northgreen Country Club (1991-94). The Ramblin' Wreck won the last three tournaments held at Northgreen. His last time here, his junior season, he had the support of his parents, wife Lisa and then baby son Connor.

I got the pleasure of meeting them all. His parents were so down-to-Earth and just glad they were able to make it up to see Stewart and his team play. And if college isn't tough enough, imagine being married and with a small child! But he handled everything so well - his school work, his role as husband and father, and his golf game. And with all that, he actually graduated the next year - on time - with a degree in Management.

But Stewart was always humble and polite - a somewhat about face from his teammate David Duval, with whom he can now share the experience of having the Claret Jug to kiss.

From that point, I felt he would break out of Duval's collegiate shadow. And he did.

He went on to become the NCAA Player of the Year his senior season, played on the Nationwide Tour and won enough times to be its Player of the Year and given a ticket to the PGA TOUR. That was 1996, and he's not looked back.

He perhaps should have won more times (six career victories, but has played on four Ryder Cup and three President Cup teams) and he's had his moments in the majors. But the only thing that has changed about him is his hairline. Believe it or not, he had a full head of hair in his college days.

But his demeanor is the same. He's still approachable, humble and personable - the very qualities we all want in our champions.

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