For the American touring pro the British Open is both a business trip that can forever alter a career and a fun-filled safari to an exotic land. Adapting to the vagaries of links golf might be the easiest part of the adventure for these innocents abroad.
On July 8 Stewart Cink was to leave his home in Duluth, Ga., to begin a circuitous journey to the Open along with his wife (and high school sweetheart), Lisa, and their sons, Connor, 15, and Reagan, 12. As the Cinks were packing up, it was discovered that the boys' passports had expired. So on July 9 the entire clan made a side trip to Washington for an emergency visit to the passport agency, and from D.C. they flew on to Dublin, arriving a day later than planned.
In 11 previous British Opens, Cink had fared better than 14th only once; that was a tie for sixth in 2007, when he spent the preceding week playing golf with his buddies on the eastern coast of Ireland. Hoping to once again get some extra prep time on the linksland, Cink and his sons toured the sacred earth of Lahinch and Ballybunion and took two spins around Doonbeg. (Lisa, a natural athlete and an accomplished tennis player, had planned to play with them but changed her mind when she saw the small crowd of onlookers that greeted her husband at every course.) "I think there is a correlation," the 36-year-old Cink said of the preparation that preceded his victory at the 138th British Open. "And I think next year I will be going to play links golf before the Open again."
Cink's new pretournament ritual is a reminder that the Open tests not only every aspect of a player's game but also his ability to adapt to the firm turf, slower greens, ever-changing weather conditions, to long flights and jet lag, unfamiliar food, warm beer and a host of other inconveniences and irritations. Getting proper rest is in many ways the most important adjustment. In addition to all the golf, the Cinks also did plenty of sightseeing in Ireland, including a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. "Anything to be outside and stay awake," says Lisa. For Americans the trip to the Open almost always begins with a red-eye flight, but the seasoned traveler knows that "taking a nap over here is deadly," according to Mark Calcavecchia, who in 1989 took home the claret jug. Too bad nobody told poor Steve Marino, the affable young Tour pro who in his first Open began 67-68 and was tied for the lead before fading to 38th on the weekend. Perhaps scrambled biorhythms were a factor on his first day at Turnberry, Marino lay down to catch a few winks and awakened six hours later, messing himself up for the better part of a week. Some cagey veterans turn to sleeping aids. Tom Lehman, the 1996 champion, is partial to Tylenol PM. Last week Calcavecchia preferred a local beer, St Mungo. "I'm allowing myself four [per night]. It's just enough, but it's not too many," said Calc, who last week hung around the leader board for the opening two rounds before finishing 27th.
That ultimately may be what separated Cink from everyone else: he refused to give in to Turnberry's quirkiness and the trying gales of the final three rounds. J.B. Holmes was one of the stories of the first round, birdieing 15, 16 and 17 to shoot a 68. His scores got worse every day, and by the final round he was up to 80. "When the bounces are going your way, it's fun," said Holmes. "When they're not, it drives you crazy, like [it does] everybody else." Except Cink, he might have added. Calcavecchia was four under through the first two rounds and eight over on the weekend, but he blamed it all on forces beyond his control. "I played about the same all four days," he said on Sunday. "For the first two rounds every bounce went my way. The last two days my luck turned. I hardly hit a bunker Thursday or Friday, and three times today I had a ball in there and couldn't even take a stance. Tell you what I'm ready to get the hell out of here."
The Cinks were supposed to begin their journey home on Sunday night, but before the champion's press conference Stewart was overheard plotting to spend an extra night at the Turnberry Hotel, the better to savor victory's afterglow. Virtually all the players stayed at the stately old hotel that is perched on a hill overlooking the links. Its in-house pub, bearing the name Duel in the Sun, was a nightly gathering spot. "There was great camaraderie hanging out with all the guys," said Boo Weekley, who played four solid rounds en route to finishing 13th. "At home you never see nobody, except at the golf course. I was in [the pub] every night. That was the good part. The bad part was having to eat the same food over and over."