Golf trophies are nice and meaningful, and Stewart Cink has a gracious plenty of them decorating his Duluth home.
But the trophy the 2009 British Open champion – and six-time PGA Tour winner – was holding Monday was looking like a centerpiece.
It’s the one featuring the bronze figure of the late Payne Stewart, jaunty in trademark knickers, the one that has come to represent the PGA Tour pro who represents “character, charity and sportsmanship,” that will command a special place.
Cink is the 2017 recipient of the Payne Stewart Award, its 20th winner, joining a roster that includes the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson, Gary Player, Davis Love III, Steve Stricker, Nick Faldo and, last year, Jim Furyk. The winner traditionally is named at East Lake Golf Club, a particularly fitting venue this year. Club-member Cink has carried the banner for East Lake’s community endeavors since leaving Georgia Tech and hitting the Tour full-time in 1997.
Cink’s also the guy who, after beating 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff for the ’09 Open, so carefully tempered his joy of winning with respect for the old champion and the sentimental story line that was denied that day.
“I’m not really into golf for recognition too much, but this is a recognition that I’m very, very proud of,” Cink said Monday.
“All those other (trophies) are about a career and a livelihood, this is one is about what golf instilled into me – a nature of wanting to give back some of golf’s values.”
Cink choked up Monday when asked what in his personal life led him down the path of philanthropy. He remembered back 25 years, while at Tech, and his long-time girlfriend called from Auburn with some startling news: She was pregnant.
The young couple sought counseling, and were encouraged to accelerate plans of marriage and child-rearing. The counselor at the time “helped us become confident that we could do it, that we could be married, we could raise a family while in college,” Cink said.
He and Lisa Cink have raised two sons, and Cink’s wife in turn served as a pregnancy counselor for 10 years. “I’m just so proud of that,” Cink said, his voice cracking.
“Our hearts were forged that day (25 years ago)," he said.
The two predominant organizations within the Cinks’ charitable foundation are the Pregnancy Resource Center of Gwinnett and the Gwinnett Medical Center neonatal intensive care unit. Also to benefit from a $300,000 grant from the Southern Company, sponsor of the Payne Stewart Award, are the East Lake Foundation and the Healing Place, an Alabama-based grief counseling center for children. Also, the annual East Lake Invitational celebrity golf tournament, started by Cink and Billy Andrade, benefits the Drew Charter School Senior Academy at East Lake.
Lisa Cink, who has since April, 2016, has been in treatment for stage four breast cancer, was with her husband Monday. The pride in seeing the Cink name in the company of Payne Stewart Award winners was undeniable. “I look at those names and I see great men, giving men. I see big-hearted genuine men and the women behind them. I also see our friends,” she said.
No matter how uncomfortable the compliment makes his wife, Cink could not help but credit her example with giving his golf career a little kick in the slacks. His three top-10 finishes are his most since 2013. His $1.2 million in money winnings is his most since 2010.
“Lisa has been fighting now for a year and a half and I’ve watched her fight,” he said. “Seeing the nature of what she’s done and how she has left no stone unturned has inspired me to leave no stone unturned as far as my career.
“As we just saw, the PGA Championship was a showcase for youth – it’s awesome, they’re great. I thought maybe I hadn’t fought quite hard enough. Maybe there were a few stones I hadn’t turned over.”
At 44 – “I’m not 45 yet, so I’m in my early 40s,” he said – winning more golf trophies on the PGA Tour may be problematic. Currently 73rd in FedEx Cup points, he plans to return to the course in two weeks with the start of golf’s playoffs. Making it back to East Lake Sept. 21 with the surviving 30 players for the Tour Championship would be monumental.
Having already enjoyed a career moment at East Lake in 2017, Cink is in full its-all-gravy-from-here mode.
“All I can do is move up (in the FedEx standings), that’s the way I’m viewing it,” he said with a smile.