"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
Stewart CinkThe Godly Golfer: The faith of Stewart Cink, winner of the 2009 Open Championship Stuart Weir
When Stewart Cink, the surprise winner of the 2009 Open Championship held his trophy aloft on Saturday, he said; "I lift it up to God for giving me the strength to withstand all the pressure".
Cink, who grew up as an "occasional churchgoer" may not have been popularly tipped for the 2009 Claret Jug but he has, for several years, been in the ascendent. In 2008 he reached a world ranking of sixth and has finished third in the other three majors US Masters 2008, US Open 2001 and the USPGA 1999. In 2007 he came sixth in the Open Championship. He has played in four Ryder Cups and three President's Cups.
The son of keen golfers, Cink's love of the sport began young: his parents would bring him with them to the golf club where he would play on the cart, because it was easier than getting a babysitter. His first breakthrough came with a victory at the age of eight in a junior tournament in Alabama. By 15, he was the best player in his age group in the state. A scholarship to Georgia Tech, where he joined the golf team, followed.
As for his faith, Church-going stopped once he began working Sundays to fund his golf. This left Jesus "in the rear view mirror but fading further away", he says.
One day at a golf team lunch, he was left shaken by the following conversation with a visiting church minister: "The minister asked me if I died that day, would I go to heaven or hell." "Heaven" Cink replied, explaining that he was a "good person" who "did not cheat on the golf course" and "would help an old lady across the road. The question had "embarrassed him." "Guys don't talk about personal things like that".
"Seven years later I learned the right answer to that question - that I could only go to heaven because Jesus died on a cross to take care of my sins."
"No one is perfect," explains Cink. "The basis of my life is believing that Jesus died for my sins. I don't believe in Jesus in order to get more birdies but it gives me a great sense of peace. Having Christ in my life makes the valleys less deep and the peaks less steep".
He encounters no tension between his faith and golfing: "Being a Christian does not mean that I cannot be competitive. If I am competing with a friend or fellow Christian to win the tournament, it is more fun but I still want to win." Keeping a focus on winning is not difficult "but I don't pray that my putt will drop. I think God has given me the talent and he wants me to use it to the best my ability - if I don't I am failing him".
Superstitions may be common among golfers - such as never stepping on the fringe, wearing the same clothes two days in a row if a player has had good luck while wearing them the first, and only changing the ball after a bogey. "I know a player who will continue using the same beat-up ball all 18 holes if he has not made a bogey!" says Cink, who finds such superstitions "incredible." He doesn't follow any: "I think they are all bad luck."
A relationship with Jesus Christ gives a different perspective on victory, Cink concludes: "Winning tournaments or playing the Ryder Cup are great but only last a week - in Jesus I have something that will last forever".
This article first appeared in the Times online edition on 21 July 2009.