Chris Kirk's Inspiring Story of Recovery
THERE was a story of redemption at the Sony Open. The headlines may have been made by Kevin Na as he secured his fifth PGA Tour victory, but the feel-good story centred around Chris Kirk.
The American has been playing on a medical exemption after taking a seven-month break from the game as he battled alcoholism and depression. It was the last-chance saloon - he needed a top-three finish to retain his full playing privileges. And it didn’t start well.
Three holes into his final round he had made two bogeys and was heading in the wrong direction. He was 13 under par and six shots behind the leader. He knew that a top-three finish was his Holy Grail and he dug deeper than he has ever done before.
Kirk birdied the 6th, 8th and 9th holes to make the turn in 34 and to close the gap on Na and Brendan Steele. Another birdie followed at the 12th, followed by another at the 14th. And when he picked up yet another at the 14th he began to believe that he could actually win the tournament, which would have secured his rights until the end of 2023.
He parred the 15th, 16th and 17th holes and then came to the 18th, a reachable par five. Kirk’s second shot came up short of the green and as he stood over the ball he knew that everything was on the line, that he had to get up and down in two to guarantee that top-three finish. He pitched the ball to 18 inches and tapped in for a birdie, a final round of 65 and full status on the PGA Tour for the rest of 2021. It means he can relax and plan his schedule.
Even though Na would go on to make birdie at the last to win the event and avoid a playoff, Kirk had accomplished exactly what he set out to do. He had saved his career.
“I would have never guessed it would work out this way, this week,” Kirk said. “You kinda see how much things are out of your control. I went and played well and things worked out, thankfully. I’m just so thankful to have the support of my family these last few years.”
Just six years ago he was in the top 20 in the world rankings and represented the USA at the Presidents Cup. But then everything began to spiral out of control. Sitting alone in motel rooms, he began to turn to drink and soon he became dependent upon it. His lowest point came when he realised that he needed to address the issue and the only way he could that was by walking away from the game that had given him four PGA Tour victories and a very comfortable lifestyle. It also meant going public.
“Being able to 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 be OK with who I am and what I’m doing,” Kirk said. “I feel like I’m starting every day doing the best I can and trying to do the best I can for my family. That is allowing me to potentially get back to the form I had before and actually using the skillset I’ve been blessed with.”
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