SI Vault
April 23, 2012
In the never-ending quest to improve, Stewart Cink decided to add a draw to his repertoire of shots. Now the 2009 British Open winner is paying the price
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April 23, 2012

For Better Or Worse

In the never-ending quest to improve, Stewart Cink decided to add a draw to his repertoire of shots. Now the 2009 British Open winner is paying the price

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"Stewart thought it was a weakness that he couldn't hit a draw," says O'Connell. "Well, I don't think Jack Nicklaus ever drew the ball. Nor did Lee Trevino. Too often we get caught up in the ball flight we can't hit. We think the grass is greener over there. It's usually not."

There is a unique fear in golf. It's the fear of a sudden loss of skill. Unlike a baseball player's swing, the golf swing is ephemeral and the fear of losing it is all too evident. Consider the litany of golfers who suddenly fell from their pedestals—major winners such as Ralph Guldahl, Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Ian Baker-Finch and David Duval. And don't forget that fellow in Jupiter, Fla., who says he needs more reps.

Even Vijay Singh, in a rare moment of elocution, admitted before the 2004 U.S. Open that he practiced so much because he feared losing his swing: "I don't want to wake up one day and say, 'How am I supposed to play this game?' There are a lot of guys who have done that and never come out of it."

Cink doesn't intend to be one of them. He plans to follow Singh and Steve Stricker, both of whom saved their best golf for their 40s. "I have at least six more good years to play," Cink says, "and I want to do something instead of just disappear."

At their first session, O'Connell noticed that Cink had an exaggerated inside-out path—golfspeak for swinging inside the target line on the backswing, then outside the line on the last half of the forward move. It's the way to hit a draw, except Cink had taken things too far. "Stewart was swinging in-to-out, which a lot of people think is the Holy Grail," O'Connell says. "The problem with in-to-out is you push or hook too much. Most guys on Tour, if they're not in-to-in, are in-to-out."

The first thing O'Connell did was get Cink to release his right arm during the follow-through and hit some hooks. Cink immediately sensed more clubhead speed. Fearful of the hook he had developed, Cink had been dragging his arms through impact. Next, O'Connell told Cink to swing around his body instead of swinging his arms toward rightfield, as he had been doing, or even toward the target line. "That sounds crazy to somebody who's hooking," O'Connell says. "They think they're going to hit it head high and dead left."

The next day Cink shot 62 at Druid Hills, a notable track in Atlanta. O'Connell, who spent three years caddying on Tour for Peter Jacobsen, learned much of his craft from respected teacher Jim Hardy. "I didn't really believe in golf instruction until I met him," O'Connell says. "When I used to take lessons, I always felt as if it would be six months before I'd be able to play well because I had seven or eight things to work on. Jim Hardy believes the very next ball should be hit better as long as he could pinpoint the problem and get the player to understand it and do it."

O'Connell also has some counterintuitive thoughts, such as: "The two segments of the population who get overtaught are PGA Tour players and juniors. They need fewer lessons, not more. Some kid might be the next Bubba Watson if you just leave him alone."

In addition to Cink and Kuchar, O'Connell works with tour pros J.J. Killeen, Scott Piercy and Matt Weibring. "When we got together, we clicked right away," Kuchar says. "I liked that he wasn't, Work on this and come see me in a week. He was like, Your next shot should be better. That's how it worked for me."

The affable Cink is following the same path. Despite what the results may show, his swing is improved. In fact, Cink believes his short game, a longtime weak spot, and his off-and-on putting are holding him back now. He has faith, like he did when he opened an account on Twitter. One of his sons told him that he'd get a few serious golf fans to follow him, maybe 500 people. "I said, 'Shoot, that's awesome. That's 500 people I didn't know were my fans,'" Cink says.

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