Hilton Head provides the perfect cure for the Masters Hangover

Hilton Head provides the perfect cure for the Masters Hangover

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Boo Weekley was 14 under on the first 12 holes before easing in at one under on the final six.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On Monday, April 14, the day after
he and Tiger Woods failed to win the
Masters, Stewart Cink took it easy at
his house in suburban Atlanta.

In the
morning he watched a tape of the final
round, fast-forwarding through others’
shots while hoping to analyze how his swing held up
under the pressure. One problem.

“They didn’t show me
hitting a shot after the 4th hole,” says Cink, who was both
amused and disappointed. “They showed me putting
but no shots.”

That afternoon Cink did a bunch of phone-in
radio interviews, falling asleep during one of them.

“Yeah,
I actually dozed off,” he says. “I blamed it on my cellphone
going out.”

Playing at Augusta National,
the game’s most
glamorous and stressful stage, saps a player’s energy the way
kryptonite drains Superman. If you’re in contention on the
weekend (Cink finished third), and you’re paired with Tiger
in the final round (as Cink was), when the first major championship
of the season is over, you’ll probably crash like a
college kid after an all-nighter.

But there’s a cure for Masters Hangover, and it’s not “take two green
jackets and call me in the morning.” It’s
the Verizon Heritage, at Harbour Town Golf
Links on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island
(a.k.a. the Head), the most relaxing
stop on the PGA Tour.

The Head is where
wounds heal, spring hits its sweet stride,
and pros decompress and rejuvenate.

Cink sensed that Masters week had
taken a toll as he drove back home from
Augusta with his wife, Lisa, after the final
round.

“I noticed I was having a hard time
putting
thoughts into words,” he says. “I
probably shouldn’t have been behind the
wheel. I was so drained, although I didn’t
really realize it at that moment.”

The Cinks arrived home at 12:30 a.m. and
got to bed around 2. “You’d think I would’ve
slept all day [Monday], but I wanted to see
the coverage,” says Cink, who watched the
replay while the kids were at school and
Lisa, a part-time teacher, was at work.

Cink had his second wind by dinnertime,
and he took Lisa and their children, Connor,
14, and Reagan, 11, to their favorite
Mexican restaurant. He even watched a
movie — Best Laid Plans, starring Reese
Witherspoon — before he “zonked out.”

The next day, Tuesday, Cink hitched a
ride to the Head on a friend’s plane. “But
I was a wreck,” Cink says. Going straight
from the airport to Harbour Town, Cink
took part in a Nike outing on the practice
range, hitting shots and talking, and then
signed autographs for an hour.

“It was like
trying to keep my eyelids propped open
with toothpicks,” he says.

Cink tried to practice a little later but had
“nothing” in the tank. He was a wreck on
Wednesday, pro-am day, too.


“I was flat,”
he says. “I leaned on my caddie quite a bit
simply to keep me moving.”

The feeling was
similar to the sensations the week after a
Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup, but “much
more acute,” Cink says.

By Thursday, however, he was in recovery
mode and back playing the kind of golf
that has already lifted him from 25th to
14th in the World Ranking this year. Cink
opened with a four-under 67 and followed
with a 68, putting him in the hunt until defending
champ Boo Weekley went Boolistic,
backing up a second-round 65 with a 64
on Saturday to separate himself from the
field. Cink tied for seventh,
seven shots back.

Curiously, all four of Cink’s career wins
have come the week after a major — two
at Hilton Head (2000, ’04), the others at
Firestone following the ’04 PGA Championship
and in Hartford after the ’97 British
Open.

“I think it’s the relaxation factor — the
compression up there at Augusta
and the
decompression [at Harbour Town],” he says.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to fool myself
and start grinding really hard the week
before the majors.”

Justin Leonard, who didn’t contend in
Augusta but shared the first-round lead at
Harbour Town before eventually finishing
17th, equated the Masters to final exams and
the Heritage to spring break.

“You come
here and go on bike rides and do fun stuff with the kids,” Leonard says. “Golf is almost
secondary. It’s easy to get in the mind-set of
leaving last week’s baggage behind.”

Steve Flesch, the last of Trevor Immelman’s
pursuers to fall during the Masters,
can relate. Two shots behind Immelman on
the tee at the par-3 12th on Sunday, Flesch
hit what he thought was a perfect eight-iron,
but the capricious, swirling wind at
Amen Corner swatted his ball down into
Rae’s Creek. The resulting 5 knocked Flesch
out of the hunt, but he has no regrets.

“My mentality was, I’m almost 41, I’ve
played in only four Masters, I’m not the
longest hitter in the world and this course
isn’t going to get any easier for me,” Flesch
says. “This might be the best chance I’ll
ever have. I got caught by a gust on 12,
tried to be aggressive coming in and made
a couple bogeys because of that. That’s golf.
To be honest, I didn’t care if I finished third
or fifth or eighth — I had a chance to win
and gave it my best shot.”

Three more bogeys on the back nine
dropped Flesch into a tie for fifth, his best
finish in a major. His second-round 67 was
the low round of the tournament.

The day after he failed to win the Masters,
Flesch drove to the Head and had
dinner with his pals from Cleveland Golf,
and the next morning his Masters Hangover
was joined by the real thing.

“We tied
one on and had a great time,” he says.


On
Tuesday, Flesch slept in until 11, then hit a
few balls and briefly chipped and putted.
On Wednesday he played in the pro-am
but felt lethargic. Flesch scraped it around
in 70 on Thursday.

“I felt like a noodle
out there,” he says. “Usually I’m never
physically exhausted, but after walking
Augusta National for eight days, I was
worn out. If I was mentally worn out, too,
I would’ve shot an 80 from where I was
hitting it.”

On a positive note Flesch immediately
discovered that his normally low profile had
been raised considerably due to his play at
Augusta.

“It’s amazing what a worldwide
telecast can do when you’re on for three
days,” he says. “People unloading their cars
at the hotel said, ‘Hey, nice going,’ and I
couldn’t believe how many people recognized
me on Monday night. They all said,
‘Great Masters. I’m sure you didn’t finish
the way you wanted.’ They didn’t have to
add the last part, but they meant it as a
compliment.”

On Friday, Flesch, a lefthander, fought
through an alarming case of the rights
with his irons, normally the strength of
his game. He made a series of unlikely
par saves, including one at the 13th hole
after his hooked nine-iron shot caromed
off greenside planking and nearly went into
a hazard near the 14th tee. He pulled off
an unbelievable pitch shot to eight feet and
made the putt. He hooked a six-iron into the
water at 14, and at 17 he hooked a five-iron
up against the bleachers — he would’ve hit
the six, but that club had experienced a fatal
accident at the 14th tee.

“I told my caddie
after I made par on 18, ‘Thank God we ran
out of holes before we ran out of balls,'”
said Flesch, who salvaged a 71.

The problem, he realized, was a different
kind of Masters hangover. He had
changed his irons before the Masters,
installing heavier shafts — too heavy and
too stiff, forcing him to throw his hands
through the shot.

“Honestly, I didn’t hit
my irons that good in Augusta,” he says. “I
chipped and putted my butt off and drove
it like crazy. I was fine with the eight- and
nine-iron and wedges, but from seven-iron
on down I was hooking it.”

At the Head
he switched back to his regular shafts on
Saturday, regained his touch and made
four birdies on the front nine during a 70.
Mystery solved, Flesch added another 70
on Sunday and finished 29th.

Although he never contended at Harbour
Town, Flesch left Hilton Head feeling pretty
chipper. April had already been a vintage
month. His nine-year-old son, Griffin, caddied
for him during the Masters Par-3 contest.
(Griffin saw Dad hit one in the drink
at the 8th hole, retee and hole out for par.)
Flesch had made a serious run at a green
jacket. (The top 16 are invited back.) And
all of a sudden he was famous. (On Golf
Channel a few years ago, he challenged
several fans — and Michelle
Wie — to pick
out his picture in the Tour media guide.
No one could.)

Harbour Town’s signature red-and-white
lighthouse loomed behind Flesch
as he chatted near the 18th green. Boats
bobbed lazily on Calibogue Sound, and
the flags on yachts in the adjacent marina
snapped in the spring breeze. The Masters
was over. The healing had begun.