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Cink excited to make Plantation Course return after 11-year absence

Countdown to Kapalua

Stewart Cink lifts up his trophy on the 18th green of the Silverado Resort North Course after winning the Safeway Open on Sept. 13 in Napa, Calif. It was Cink’s first PGA Tour win since the 2009 British Open and earned him a spot in next month’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course. AP file photos

It didn’t take long for Stewart Cink to realize he was coming back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, albeit 11 years after his last appearance in the usually winners-only event at the Kapalua Plantation Course.

Cink won the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., in September to secure his invitation to Kapalua for the Sentry TOC that will take place Jan. 7-10. It was his first PGA Tour win since the 2009 British Open.

“I’m very excited, it’s a tournament I’ve missed playing in for a lot of years,” Cink said via phone on Monday. “Honestly, as soon as I tapped in on the last hole and I knew that the win was secure it was immediately the first thought to my mind, that I’m going to go back to Maui and get to compete.”

His 11-year gap between appearances here is tied for the longest drought between starts since the event moved to the Plantation Course in 1999. Charles Howell III was here in 2008 and not again until 2019, while Vaughn Taylor was here in 2006 before making it back in 2017.

“I’ve been a lot of places — I’ve been a pro golfer my adult life the entire time and I’ve been to some of the world’s best places, but I’ve never been to a better place than Maui,” Cink said. “So, it’s great to come back and I can’t wait.”

Stewart Cink (right) walks with his caddie and son, Reagan Cink, during the Safeway Open.

Cink is 47 years old, but he will arrive on Maui with some new-found skip in his step — his 23-year-old son Reagan will be his caddie, and a couple tweaks to his game and equipment have helped him find an extra 15 yards or so off the tee.

Cink is currently fourth in the FedEx Cup standings for the 2020-21 season, thanks largely to his first PGA Tour win in 4,074 days.

With Reagan living at home after his graduation from Georgia Tech, father and son have recorded the Safeway win, a tie for fourth and a tie for ninth. That success led Stewart Cink to ask his son to stay on the bag until Reagan’s wedding in July — the younger Cink put a lucrative job as a member of the technology product management team at Delta Airlines on hold to caddy for his pops.

The Cink family — Stewart’s wife Lisa, and sons Reagan and Connor, along with both of their fiancees — will travel to Maui for the TOC.

“It’s been a blast, an absolute blast,” Cink said. “Having Reagan, at 23, he and I play a ton of golf together and he’s a golfer in his own right. He understands the game and he’s way more than just a family guest caddie out there. He’s working and he’s helping me out. He’s supporting my decision-making and he’s thrown in some advice every now and then.”

It has been a father-son team that has worked very well.

“He kept the same cadence with his talking and with his thinking process and his decision-making alongside me. We think the same way and it’s just really nice to have a player-caddie relationship that also is just superseded by a father-son relationship that’s so really close,” Stewart Cink said.

Cink is not sure the Plantation Course is ideal for his game, but he can’t wait to try. He tied for sixth in this event in 1998, one year before it came to Kapalua. His finishes here include a tie for 12th in 2001, tie for fifth in 2005, tie for 24th in 2009 and solo ninth in 2010.

“My game has undergone quite a bit of changes in the last 10 years, so I will be really excited to see how Stewart Cink at age 47 competes there,” he said. “And see how the course fits to my game compared to the last time I was there at age 37.”

Age has not sapped his length off the tee — he currently ranks 32nd on the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average of 308.2 yards. A high-ball hitter, he knows the traditional trade winds could have an effect on his accuracy on the challenging Plantation Course.

Cink enters into a loaded field for this event that has added non-winners who were in the top 30 on the FedEx Cup points list at the end of the 2019-20 season. That added 17 players to the list of 2020 winners who are also eligible.

“That’s the name of the game in pro golf, you want to play against the best,” Cink said. “When you’re in those limited fields it just feels like even more of an elite experience. So, if you’re looking to test yourself and compete and try to be one of the best, you’ve got to play among the best. So, this is a great opportunity to start the year on an absolute great note, to play on Maui, to play the Plantation Course and against a field like this. All the players who are eligible that were in the Tour Championship and everybody who has won on the PGA Tour, it doesn’t get any better.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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