Little did Stewart Cink know how much it meant. After all, it was such a nothing putt, barely two feet, shorter than your shirtsleeve, a spaghetti strand, the hair in your soup. It was a gimme. Leather. Uphill. Dead center. Grandmothers make them all day. Blind men. Toddlers. Pick it up, and let's get a beer.
But Stewart Cink blew a chance at his life's dream when he missed that putt on the last hole at Southern Hills Country Club on Sunday. He gagged away a spot in the U.S. Open playoff and guaranteed a lifetime of That's the poor bastard who choked away the Open whispers.
Yet, afterward, he would not crack. His wife, Lisa, did. She staggered to the players' parking lot, her face flush, her right hand held to her sternum, biting her lower lip, until she found a railing to sit down on and buried her brown eyes in her hands.
Stewart, however, just smiled broadly, tousled the haircuts of his two small boys and shook mourners' hands, as if he were at his own funeral. That's how his mother, Anne, knew how much he was hurting. "I can tell he's 50 disappointed," she said, misty-eyed, "because he's grinning."
Golf is so cruel, it will take everything but your grin. Cink had played gorgeously all week. On the 72nd green the tournament was down to him and South Africa's Retief Goosen. They were tied at five under par. One shot back was Mark Brooks, who was packing his bags in the clubhouse. Goosen had a 12-footer and Cink a 15. If Cink missed his for par, Goosen could two-putt to win. Cink did miss his, and he was left with the simple two-footer that meant absolutely nothing. Or so he thought. "I couldn't concentrate," he said later. "I figured I had just bogeyed the final hole to lose the U.S. Open. I didn't think there was any way Retief would three-putt from where he was."
Politely, Cink decided to putt out so Goosen could have his moment of glory. "I didn't rush it," Cink continued, "but, I don't know, I guess I pushed it. It all happened so fast."
My God, Cink had sunk that little putt 100,000 times. Every practice day he makes 24 three- to five-footers in a row before going home. He hadn't missed a putt like that all week. This one, though, didn't even frighten the hole, throwing him in with Scott Hoch, Bill Buckner and Jackie Smith as men who, standing a foot from the top of Mount Everest, slipped on a banana peel. Finally, Cink made his double-bogey putt, finishing the tournament at three under.
Then the unthinkable happened. Goosen hit his lag putt two feet past the cup and then—and then!—missed that one!
Little did Cink know how much it meant. At first. "It took me a while to realize I'd lost a chance to win the Open," he said. "I was feeling so sorry for Retief that he'd missed, because something like that can do real damage to your confidence. It didn't dawn on me until he made his [third putt] that I was finishing one shot out of the playoff."
Yet he would not crack. His father, Rob, did. All six-foot-six of him was red-eyed and shaky. "I am so proud of him," his father croaked, "but, I mean, how many chances do you ever get to win a U.S. Open?"