A morning with the pros in Aspen
ASPEN ” PGA pro Stewart Cink has seen the Great Wall of Tiger too many times to count.
Speaking to a group of attentive junior golfers and a smattering of parents Monday at the Aspen Golf Club, Cink, when asked, readily explained why Tiger Woods is the world’s best golfer.
“When he goes to take a shot, it’s like he puts a wall up between you and him,” Cink said. “It’s the same thing every single time. Whether he’s playing a practice round with friends or putting for the win on the 72nd hole at the Masters, he never wastes a shot. He’s the best at blocking everything out.”
Cink certainly knows from experience. Currently fourth on the PGA money list and in the midst of his best season as a pro, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound native of Huntsville, Ala., was seeing a lot of Woods before the world’s No. 1 had season-ending knee surgery after last month’s U.S. Open.
“I played in three or four final rounds with him this year,” Cink said. “And I lost to him every time.”
“Who doesn’t,” quipped Aspen Junior Golf Director Alden Richards.
The exchange was just one of many that drew laughs from the collected audience on a morning when Aspen’s best junior golfers got the chance to interact with some of their idols.
Cink was one of five pros in town for the hour-long presentation that preceded Monday’s R.H. Crossland Foundation Aspen Charity Shootout ” a pro-am that benefits the Aspen Junior Golf Foundation.
The others were Senior Tour player Larry Loretti, PGA pro Nick Malinowski and current Nationwide Tour players Roger Tambellini and Ryan Hietala. PGA pro Chris DiMarco, who has come to the charity tournament in recent years, didn’t appear as scheduled.
Hietala was the only pro among the group whose ties to Aspen stretch beyond the charity tournament. The 34-year-old grew up here and was one of Aspen Junior Golf’s first participants before his parents made a move to Tucson, Ariz., in 1989, so that he could pursue his favorite sport full time.
Hietala recounted a story to the assembled juniors that showed just how passionate he was about golf as a young man growing up in snowy Aspen. He wanted to go to the 1986 Masters so bad that Hietala said he packed a bag and told his parents he was heading to Augusta, Ga.
He didn’t get very far.
Although, when he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to go see his idol Jack Nicklaus play, he decided to do the next best thing: Go play golf by himself.
The only problem was it was April and there was still snow blanketing the Aspen course.
“I raked the whole green off on No. 14, then I started putting and chipping,” Hietala said proudly. “My dad used to drive a RFTA bus, and he was driving upvalley when he saw this kid out on the golf course putting and chipping. He thought the kid was crazy until he realized it was me. Then his eyes started to well up.”
Malinowski recounted a story of his own from his youth, telling his young audience that he started playing golf at age 2 when his father brought him home his first club. He also remembered the first hole he ever played, a par 3.
“I hit a driver, an 8-iron and then a putter,” he said.
“I’m still doing that,” joked Loretti.
Loretti also had some tips of his own for the young golfers, telling them that, for how mentally challenging golf is, the best thing to do is not think too much.
He recounted one of his favorite lines, told to him by an old friend.
“I asked him what he was thinking about out there,” Loretti said. “He told me he was thinking about why they have interstate highways in Hawaii.”
“Seriously,” he added. “You should never get too excited about a good shot and never get too excited about a bad shot.”
Cink, after expounding on what it’s like to play against Tiger Woods, also gave some advice of his own.
“If you really want to get better, you have to work on what you’re weak at,” he said. “Everybody likes to work on what they’re good at, but it’s tougher to work on the things you’re not so great at. That takes dedication.”
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River Radamus always looked forward to this field trip at school — attending the ski races in Beaver Creek. Growing up in nearby Edwards, his class would routinely head to the course for the World Cup stop. Some of the 23-year-old racer’s fondest memories include watching Ted Ligety shine on the demanding Birds of Prey course.