In the player dining area at Waialae Country Club prior to the start of the Sony Open in Hawaii last week, Davis Love III saw Chris Kirk in a corner on his phone.
“He had his kids on FaceTime,” Love said. “The kids were giggling and it was almost too loud.
“I went over and leaned in and said ‘Hey, kids go to bed.’ As I walked out, I thought about how everything was going great for him. And that was before the golf started.”
Kirk, who finished second in the 2014 FedEx Cup playoffs and was a member of the 2015 United States Presidents Cup team, was on the verge of losing his full status on the PGA Tour. He needed at least a third-place finish in his final start on his major medical exemption, otherwise, the four-time winner would be forced to play his way back onto the tour he once took for granted.
If you’re not familiar with Kirk’s story, his life and career tumbled into the abyss as he struggled with alcohol and depression issues. He left the PGA Tour in the spring of 2019 to deal with his personal problems. Kirk told his story publicly.
He spent approximately seven months away from tournament golf, working on his life rather than his game. When he returned, Kirk won the first Korn Ferry Tour event after the restart last summer. But he was teetering on the edge of full PGA Tour eligibility when he arrived at Waialae.
In the final round, Kirk shook off two early bogeys and rallied to shoot a fourth consecutive 65 that earned him a tie for second – and full privileges on tour. He jumped from 134th to 36th in FedEx Cup points, changing the arc of his season.
“The last few years have been pretty wild with some up-and-downs for me,” Kirk said Sunday. “But to be in this situation to be healthy, to have a clear mind and a clear conscience is amazing, and golf is very much secondary to that.
“But still, it’s my career, it’s what I love to do and to be able to have a week like I did is very gratifying. I’m just beyond words thankful.”
“I feel like I’m starting every day doing the best that I can and trying to do the best I can for my family. That is allowing me to potentially get back to the form that I had before.” – Chris Kirk
In telling his story, Kirk was brutally honest. He remembers waking up in New Orleans one morning in 2019 wearing the same clothes he’d worn the day before, feeling the dragging effects of another night of heavy drinking. He had missed nine cuts in 12 starts.
With a wife and three young kids at home, Kirk had been able to stop drinking at times, but he always fell back into it. Finally, Kirk decided he had to aggressively address the issue. He posted his reality on Twitter and began his road to a new life.
“I would say in 2013, 2014, 2015, when I was kind of at the peak of my career, that was kind of the beginning,” Kirk said. “Alcoholism is a very progressive disease, so at that time I probably was not an alcoholic; I was just on my way to being one.
“After the next few years, things kind of got worse. Being able to kind of hit a reset button for me and get myself into a great place mentally and physically, and just to be able to wake up every day and just be OK with who I am and what I’m doing, I feel like I’m starting every day doing the best that I can and trying to do the best I can for my family. That is allowing me to potentially get back to the form that I had before.”
With his languid swing, Kirk was a steady presence on the PGA Tour. The former Georgia Bulldog lived for a time at Sea Island before moving to Atlanta while quietly dealing with his problems. His comeback victory on the Korn Ferry Tour last June signaled his return to form but Kirk still needed to make it happen on the PGA Tour.
His best finish in 10 starts since the tour’s restart last summer was a T18 at the RSM Classic, leaving him one week to save his full status.
“(I) certainly knew that I was capable of doing it. I wouldn’t exactly have pegged this as the fashion that I did it, but when I came back, I came back with absolutely no expectations,” Kirk said.
“I knew I wanted to play golf again and I knew I wanted to compete. As long as I stuck with that and tried to make sure that I was enjoying what I was doing, that was all that mattered to me.
“Even (the Sony Open), it wasn’t a huge deal for me. I’m really thankful that it worked out, but I was more focused on just enjoying what I’m doing and enjoying being here.”
Top: Chris Kirk reacts after winning the Korn Ferry Tour’s The King & Bear Classic on June 20, 2020. Photo: Stan Badz, PGA Tour via Getty Images
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