February 03, 2011
Golf and hockey are inextricably linked. A hockey player's offseason itinerary usually reads something like "gym, skate, golf," with golf being the only real appealing thing on the list. I'd be shocked if you could find a team where less than 50 percent of the players owned clubs.
That said, it's sort of a one-way street -- hockey players love to get out on the course, but golfers aren't exactly clamouring to get on the ice. Except maybe Stewart Cink.
Cink won the British Open last year, has a Nike sponsorship, and represented the United States in the Ryder Cup -- in short, he's a hell of a golfer.
Also, he's an Atlanta Thrashers season-ticket holder.
This struck me as somewhat bizarre, being that he was born and raised on golf courses in the South, so I caught up with him to find out how a PGA Tour star ends up being not just a hockey fan, but a season-ticket holder.
BOURNE: What do you think of this year's Thrashers?
CINK: They're hot and cold. We've got a new coach in Craig Ramsay, we've done a lot of shuffling in the front offices, so it's a new... a new era we hope.
We started off pretty good, showed some signs of life early -- Dustin Byfuglien(notes) and some of the other guys that came across from the Chicago Blackhawks were big additions. Dustin Byfuglien was really big, he was scoring, like, at basically a point-a-game for the first 40 games, he was really on fire. He's just a strong, offensive-minded blue liner. And then things just sort of seemed to cool off.
Also, Ondrej Pavelec(notes), the goalie, is a good goalie, he was on fire early but has been struggling a bit lately. They were on a tear, like one of the best stretches we've seen since we've been going to games probably through December, but since then they've cooled off and it's just been ugly. They're right around the eighth spot in the east, so I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a move here at the trade deadline to get some fire built up, cause they've got a chance.
They really need to succeed in a decent way, sometime coming up, cause Atlanta sports fans don't just come to games to see a loser. Pretty bad sports fans to be honest. If the team doesn't turn it around soon there's gonna be, like, zero interest in the team -- and who knows what happens after that.
I hear ya, I'm living in Phoenix out here and kind of going through the same thing. So, there seems to be this weird connection between hockey and golf, especially for hockey guys. You know, you have the whole summer free and most of us are from Canada, so we've gotta cash in on those warm months. Does it work the other way for you, can you skate? Do you have interest in playing yourself?
Yeah, I understand why hockey players like golf because like you said ... you nailed it, their off-times are when the golf courses are open, it's green out, so they play.
As far as the other way around, it doesn't really work that way. Most golfers, most of us, haven't ever been ice skating, or don't have any interest. I'm a little different because my kids play -- when my kids started playing I wanted to at least learn how to skate a little bit so I could play with them a little, y'know, so when we'd have a parent-child game I'd go, I just wanted to be able to participate. So yeah, I learned a little bit, how to skate, I can definitely hockey stop on both sides, I'm a skier, so I understand edge work and all that.
I have a hang-up with hockey -- if I ever did get hurt playing hockey and it caused me to miss a bunch of time on the golf course, I just don't know if I could live with myself, getting injured playing hockey. I'll go skiing and I'm not a great skier, but I'm not falling all over the mountain. I'll do water sports, all kind of dangerous stuff, but for some reason hockey is my hang-up.
I think most people would be unimpressed if you missed a major because you were playing rec league in Atlanta.
If I played it, that's what I'd do, I'd be a C League guy... there's a league right here where my kids play, like two miles from my house, and I know a lot of the dads on the team that play. A lot of them are better than C-Leaguers, but they always encourage me to get out there and...I'm going to one day, I just don't know when.
So it sounds like there isn't a whole group of tour players that are eagerly checking their BlackBerries to find out the latest NHL scores. How disappointing. You're in the vast minority.
Vast minority, correct. The players that live in the cities where there's NHL teams follow it, and they care. There's a couple guys who are into it and we talk about it all the time. A couple caddies are into it too. For the most part, I have to seek out the guys to talk about it.
How did you become a hockey fan, being a golfer from Atlanta?
Well, when the Thrashers started up here in 1999, the announcement came a year ahead of time, and, a lot of my friends live out in Phoenix had gotten season tickets for the Phoenix Coyotes. That was probably five years ahead of time, maybe the mid-to-early '90s? These guys weren't hockey guys but they said, ‘Trust us, when you go to the games you'll understand what we're talking about, it's fun, it's exciting, and you'll have a good time.'
So, we got a couple tickets that first season and I thought they were, y'know, crazy, but we went a few times that first season and I had no clue what was going on, but it was fun; an exciting fast-paced game.
The big thing that got us into it was the kids, the kids were about 7 and 4...or 6 and 3 at the time, and to me they said "I want to do that."
Oh, are your kids in hockey?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. So once the kids were old enough to get into the Learn to Skate, snow pup fan kinda things, we got them in the programs and, real quickly, they improved and they've been in the travel leagues now for about five or six years.
When I'm off the golf course, I'm into the hockey thing. Y'know I love the Thrashers, I love the NHL in general, and have the utmost respect for those guys. My younger son still plays. He's a bantam major, and the older one got out of hockey for a year, but he wants back in for next year, he's a junior, so we're heavily into it in a lot of ways.
That's really cool, so you just started from scratch, and had no experience with it as a kid yourself or anything?
The only experience I had growing up was in Northern Alabama where I was 75 miles from the nearest ice rink, and that school located there, the University of Alabama-Huntsville, they have a hockey program, Division I. And they covered them on the sports channel all the time, and I couldn't understand why. Here they're covering the ice hockey program and we're in Alabama and I didn't know anyone who played hockey.
But that was the only exposure I had to hockey when I was growing up. Never played, never saw any games, just spent time wondering why they covered the sport.
So, you have buddies, golfer buddies, that live out in Phoenix and go to Coyotes games?
Yeah, a lot of the guys out there go. You know, Phoenix is a lot like Atlanta: Lots of transplants from the North, so, you get the odd Canadian here and there. And these guys just sold me, they said when you get a team, get a few tickets, and you'll be hooked on it. I took their advice and it turned out to be right.
Who are some of the other guys on the tour that follow hockey?
Well, Mike Weir of course, y'know, Canadian guy. Also Dudley Hart, he's been injured for awhile, but he was one of the guys who encouraged me to go to games, though he's not one of the Phoenix guys, he's down around South Florida.
Nice. So you actually have Thrashers season tickets now?
Yeah, I've been a season-ticket holder for every season they've played.
So do you have a lot of time with the busy PGA travel schedule to actually attend games?
Not really. There's 41 home games, if I get to 15 I'm doing pretty well.
Actually, I kind of enjoy the process of giving out the tickets cause I do it on Twitter pretty often, or email the parents on my son's hockey team, sort of like a first-come first-serve type of thing, so I can always have a bit of fun with that. There's not many times when they're not used.