The 2021 edition of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing was a special one for me. It was my 20th consecutive Heritage in attendance and 21st overall. More on that in a bit. Of course, most of the Heritages I have attended were centered around hospitality tents, free food, and bad dancing at the Quarterdeck.
In 2020, I was tasked to do ShotLink on the par-5 second hole, which was a totally unique experience, especially during such a crazy year.
This year, though, I was blessed with the opportunity to cover the Heritage as a reporter for LowcoSports. Of course, I use the term “reporter” loosely, but I proudly trotted around the 7,100-yard Harbour Town Golf Link in my LowcoSports polo, tweeting out pictures of the world’s best golfers bending their shots around 100-year-old oak trees and writing recaps of the spectacular scenes and stories the golf course provided each round.
And what better story than a 47-year-old PGA Tour veteran winning his third tartan jacket, with his young 24-year-old son on his bag?
Seeing Stewart Cink and his son blitz the field this week while laughing and fist-bumping sent me down memory lane to my first Heritage in 1995. My father, Pete, finagled two tickets to the final round of the 1995 Heritage from one of his vendors near our hometown of Lugoff, South Carolina. When making sales calls and working deals my dad would often find himself, like all good dads, bragging about his kids. I was a decent golfer in high school, good enough to be all-region and play in the state championship and sniff the prospect of playing NAIA golf, but a long way from being “good.”
But in my dad’s eyes, well, I would one day walk those perfectly mown fairways with the best of the best. I can only imagine the stories, fibs, and fatherly bent truths he would tell his poor customers as he bragged about his “boy” on the golf course during those long-winded sales calls.
So on an unseasonably hot, sunny Sunday in April 1995, we woke up early and hit the road to trek three hours to Hilton Head Island. Hilton Head was a utopia to those of us who lived in the midlands of South Carolina, a place for only the wealthy snowbirds, country club kids, and greedy northern bankers who were taking advantage of lower taxes. This one-day excursion was like visiting another country and culture for this country bumpkin father-son duo.
We parked the car, double-checked that our lanyards were around our necks and hopped on a packed charter bus eager to go see a real-life PGA Tour event. My dad and I walked through security, grabbed pairing sheets, and as we looked up to find the first tee our jaws dropped. Nick Faldo, Nick Price, and Tom Watson were putting and shooting the breeze on the massive practice green behind the estately Sea Pines clubhouse. These legends were mere feet away from us. Was this real life or a dream? But the pinch never came, we were living the dream.
This was decades before everyone wore fitness trackers on their wrists, but surely we walked 12 miles that day. We could not get enough of the action, following everyone from the young long-hitting John Daly to Ernie Els to Payne Stewart, and of course the champion Bob Tway. We were stained with pollen and had dangerously sensitive pink skin from the island sun, but we were on cloud nine after seeing the pros up close and personal. I of course was no help driving the three hours back home, as I quickly passed out and left the navigating and driving to my poor father to contend with along with the other tired dads.
My dad liked golf well enough but never actually played until I begged him to take me to the free, city-owned course in Camden, South Carolina. It was more of a field, with nine pins crookedly cut into bulging sandy hills. The “greens” were centipede grass mixed with weeds and were mowed once a week whether they needed it or not (they always did).
I was a pimply-faced eighth-grader who grew up loving basketball and baseball, but I was ready to dive headfirst into this golf thing, not knowing it would soon consume my life. So on our way to the course we visited a local thrift store and bought some old clubs. The circa-1960s set included impossibly small-headed Wilson staff irons, a heavy burgundy leather bag, and knit headcovers for the two laminate woods.
We kept score the first hole or two on a scratch sheet of notebook paper before recognizing our hacks, disguised as swings, were not measurable by any stroke count or amount of pencil lead. But golf … golf was now in our veins.
We would both get better over the years. I quickly improved thanks mainly to youth, flexibility, disposable time, and a handful of expensive lessons from South Carolina legend Grant Bennett. My dad, well he did his best to keep up and looked to me for swing fixes and drills. After all, there were only enough funds for one of us to get lessons.
Each year our equipment slightly improved and so did our vacations, as golf was now a must no matter if we were camping in Myrtle Beach or hiking the mountains of Tennessee. We would always sneak in one round.
This was our thing. Golf would be the two to four hours we would have together nearly every weekend throughout my high school years. We would laugh at our shanks, never pay our father-son bets, and simply be together. Most of the time we honestly talked about nothing, but aren’t those the best dad talks?
Who knows how many times my dad did not want to wake early for a tee time in Cheraw or some other small town in the Palmetto State. But he did it. Who knows how many cars, vacations, dinner dates, and home renovations he sacrificed to help me with my golf game. But he did it. Honestly, I am not sure how much he ultimately liked playing golf, but he loved me, so like all good dads do, he played along.
When I watched Stewart Cink this week and his banter and energy with his son and caddy Reagan, it was impossible for me not to think about the 1995 RBC Heritage and everything my father has done and sacrificed for me. In the interviews, the laughs, the hugs, you could see how much Reagan appreciates his dad — and vice versa.
Stewart Cink can have anyone he wants on his bag. But the now three-time RBC Heritage champion picked his son to be that man. The Cinks were out on the fairways of Harbour Town supporting each other and loving every minute of the trip through the forest of Sea Pines and out to Calibogue Sound.
While Stewart Cink was the champion Sunday, you could see he was even prouder of the work his son had accomplished. He was being a dad first and a champion golfer second.
The purest, most fruitful father-son relationships are unbeatable, and the Cinks proved that in grand fashion while sending many of us down a smiling, memory lane of our own.
By Brian Rietveld