Stewart Cink experiencing late-career resurgence highlights the beauty in unpredictability of golf

Nobody on the PGA Tour has more wins this season than a 47-year-old man who failed to win during the entire 2010s and is maybe most famous for dashing one of the great stories in sports history 12 years ago at the Open Championship. Stewart Cink tied Bryson DeChambeau with his second victory of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season at the RBC Heritage on Sunday, a four-stroke rout over Harold Varner III and Emiliano Grillo. 

Cink moved to No. 44 in the world with the win. He has not finished a year inside the top 50 since 2010. He’s also No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings, No. 24 in the U.S. Ryder Cup rankings and is one of just 17 players who have earned over $3 million so far this season. After winning six of his first 616 professional events, Cink has now won two of his last 15. In a sport known for its rebirths, this one stands out.

At 47 years old, nearly twice the age of final round playing partner Collin Morikawa, Cink should be winding down a successful career on the PGA Tour and preparing for the senior circuit. Instead, as runner-up Varner said, “He’s old and he’s kicking everyone’s ass.” Cink also won the Safeway Open in September by two strokes over the affable Harry Higgs in Napa. Depending on how the next three major championships go, he could legitimately be in the conversation for a U.S. Ryder Cup team that will be dominated by 27-year-olds.

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Cink credited his cadre of teammates on Sunday, including his swing coach, physico and family (Cink’s son, Reagan, was on his bag at both the Safeway Open and at the RBC Heritage).

“I feel like I’m in a good spot, and my team has been great,” said Cink. “But I was able to really kind of change my golf game into a little bit more of a power game, and immediately it busted right now in Napa with a win there.”

Golf is wonderful for so many different reasons, but one of them seems to pop up every once in a while as it did with Cink at Harbour Town Golf Links over the last four days: the breadth of ages involved in competition at the highest level. 

In what other sport could a man twice the age of not even his youngest colleagues totally “kick everyone’s ass” for weeks at a time? In what other sport could a man not have much success at all for 10 straight years and then re-enter the top 50 in the world in his industry? In what other sport could the No. 1 player in the world have a really good week and the 47-year-old who has been a non-factor for the last 10 years play twice as well as him?

Golf is wonderful because the golf ball has no idea what year you were born or how much money you have or whether you’re balding or graying or grappling with any number of existential contemplations. It only knows what the club tells it to do. The implication here is that, despite what we think we know and what we prognosticate from week to week, stories can emerge from anywhere. More so in golf than in any other sport.

This will undoubtedly whip some equipment truthers into a frenzy as they point at Cink as proof that everything is in a great spot with clubs and golf balls right now (this is very predictable). That modern equipment — which Cink did credit in the aftermath on Sunday evening — contributes to the beauty of this game. However, Cink himself said he’s worked his body and his mind and labored to understand his swing even better over the last several years. And these truthers would also be ignoring that Cink has always been a flusher of the golf ball, that equipment helps everyone and also that the point of rolling back equipment is not to protect young stars rather old golf courses (but that is another column for another day).

I don’t know if Stewart Cink is going to contend at a major championship later this year. I don’t know if his name is going to legitimately be in the conversation for a Ryder Cup team nobody in the world thought he could make this time last year. I don’t know if this was the last win of his career or if he’ll win three more times this year. I don’t know if his T12 at the Masters two weeks ago is emblematic of how he’ll play at Kiawah, Torrey Pines and Royal St. George’s. 

He doesn’t know, either. 

He doesn’t know anything other than he’s flushing the ball right now and wins are getting in the way. He doesn’t know if he’s won his last tournament, just as he did not know in 2009 at Turnberry whether he had done enough to defeat a 59-year-old Tom Watson in regulation. It’s golf, nobody ever knows. 

But that the outcomes are so varied and so wild and so inconceivable at times is kind of the point. That a 47-year-old man can pick apart so many better players playing in the primes of their careers is wonderful. It’s part of the beating heart behind what makes the game — even beyond its existence on a professional level — the very best in the entire world.

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