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 (sidebar, left). 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.