It was just last September when 23-year-old Reagan Cink was asked to carry his father’s bag as a caddy. Fresh out of college and newly engaged, the son of PGA Tour legend Stewart Cink was just looking to share bonding time before he started a full-time job with Delta Airlines.
But after an impressive victory for the family duo at the Safeway Open in California followed by another top-five finish in Bermuda, Stewart knew that his son was the one. Now, just a handful of months later, the father and son find themselves 18 holes away from a weekend to remember forever at the RBC Heritage.
Cink was a legend at Harbour Town two decades ago, but no one would have predicted his renaissance and return to form at the age of 47. He had not finished in the top-20 at the Heritage in an entire decade. He hadn’t had a 36-hole lead at any event since the 2008 Travelers Championship. But along came Reagan, who in just several months has revitalized Stewart back into his dominant form of yesteryear.
“He has the same amount or more than any other caddy I’ve ever had,” Stewart said. “He’s not just my son caddying, he’s a professional caddie doing an excellent job. He could caddie for any player in the world right now. It’s just a really good jell we’ve got going out there. We had it last week. We’ve had it ever since he’s caddied for me.”
Every night before the father and son take the course, they’ll put together a detailed gameplan, taking into account pin placement, projected wind direction, and nearby hazards to come up with how to tackle a menacing course like Harbour Town Golf Links. When they’re out on the links for real, the two are more than prepared to handle the ups and downs that a round of professional golf brings.
“What Reagan has really allowed me to do is to really quantify that gameplan with a system that we use on every shot, and we work it all up the night before and we come out here, and every shot we work that system through,” Stewart explained. “And so as a caddie he buys into the system, and when we have choices to make he’s really good about reminding me what the prudent one is. It doesn’t mean we play conservative; we’re aggressive but we’re aggressive to the right places, and then when we need to be conservative, the system makes the decision for us.
“I don’t have this unlimited boundless energy to constantly make these decisions all day long, so we’ve got a good system that makes the decisions for us,” the elder Cink continued. “We’ve got a really good plan going — we call it bludgeoning. When you can manage yourself around a course like that and execute, the golf course will just yield.”
It’s safe to say the system has been working so far this week at the RBC Heritage, as the two-time champion shattered the 36-hole (-16) and 54-hole (-18) tournament records, erasing the likes of five-time major champion Phil Mickelson and the legendary Jack Nicklaus from at least one line of the Heritage record book.
Without Reagan by his side, this incredible success certainly would’ve been next to impossible. A scratch golfer himself, Reagan has proven to be an invaluable decision-maker in key situations. Midway through Friday’s second round, Cink found himself in a world of trouble after finding the trees to the left of the fairway on the par-4 12th. The son persuaded his dad to lay up about 40 yards short of the hole instead of going straight for the green, and the plan worked to perfection, saving a par to keep the incredible momentum going and finish off the record-breaking first 36.
“I had a little narrow opening that I could have gone at the green, or I could have just chipped it out and had a nice comfortable wedge shot,” Stewart recalled. “He said, ‘Dad, you don’t have to get this ball all the way to the green; you can easily leave it 20 or 30 yards short and have a pitch right up the green. I think that’s your goal here.’ That was an example of how a caddie and somebody like Reagan with a comfort level to suggest that can influence a player who may be thinking other ways, and sometimes the brain doesn’t just quite work like it normally does when you start getting adrenaline.”
But the low scores couldn’t have happened without Stewart’s exceptional execution. The resurgent veteran has once again found his game at Harbour Town after winning the tartan jacket back in 2000 and again in 2004.
After a decade and change of disappointment and frustration, the spectacular putting and eye-popping approach shots have come back in full force. Out of nowhere, Cink has become a phoenix rising from the ashes, right here on the course that he once dominated. And just three years away from his 50th birthday, he’s put on a show unlike any we’ve seen since 48-year-old Hale Irwin earned his third tartan jacket in 1994.
The Cink duo continued the remarkable performance as the weekend rounds commenced. After a bogey at the third, Reagan and Stewart quickly recovered with a pair of birdies on the ensuing two holes and avoided any collapses down the stretch while picking up Cink’s first birdie at the par-3 14th in his last 39 rounds at Harbour Town. The pair then took out another record, setting the event’s best 54-hole mark at 18-under par.
Now, the Cinks are just a solid Sunday away from writing an unforgettable story. There’s nothing like the bond between a father and son, and the memories the two spend together here — win or lose — will be remembered forever. They have created a near-flawless partnership between the brains of Reagan and the execution of Stewart, who has rekindled his world-class play at a place he knows oh so well. It’s a dream come true for both, and an opportunity to etch their names into Heritage lore — together.
By Wes Kerr