With two high-profile victories in the last year, Chris Kirk, 30, has joined the Tour’s elite. The four-time winner’s secret? Embracing this “ridiculous” game.
Before your fourth career PGA Tour win, in May at the Colonial, your biggest victory was a year ago, at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Was that Sunday at TPC Boston the most pressure you’ve ever felt?
Absolutely. Coming down the stretch, I was really feeling it, more than in my previous two wins. The stage was so big, and it’s part of the FedEx Cup. But I held myself together and hit some decent shots.
You started the event with an opening-round 73, then shot three rounds in the 60s, which led you to say, “Golf is ridiculous.” What did you mean by that?
I was not playing my best late last year, but I was working really hard at it. I shot 2-over in the opening round, and I was frustrated. My coach said, “Wanna go hit some balls?” I said, “Screw that,” except I didn’t use the word “screw.” I said, “Who cares? [More practice] doesn’t matter.” I went to the hotel, hung out with my kids and relaxed. The next day, I found something with my swing, especially in my iron game, and I shot a 66. I was off to the races. So yeah, golf is ridiculous sometimes. [Laughs]
In Boston, you went bogey-free for the final 37 holes and outplayed Rory McIlroy, with whom you were paired over the weekend. What’s it like playing with McIlroy?
Rory’s great. He’s down to earth and very courteous. He draws huge crowds, which I wish I could play in front of all the time, because it helps my focus.
What memory stands out from those two rounds?
I was leading, and I finished with a par in the last round. I was hoping to put it away with a birdie on the last hole, but I missed a putt, made par, and Rory and I shook hands, and he said, “I hope it’s good enough.” Then Billy [Horschel, who had a chance to tie or win] hit his approach shot into the water on 18. Rory jumps up and says, “You won!” He was genuinely excited for me, which is awesome. That’s a rare thing in pro golf. He’s such a good guy.
You’re now 30. You joined the Tour full-time in 2011. Were you intimidated as a rookie?
Not really. By the time I got out here, I felt like I belonged with the best players. I’d played on the Web.com Tour for three years and had played seven or eight Tour events, so I knew what to expect. It wasn’t a culture shock.
But there must have been a learning curve as you learned how to score on Tour, right?
Absolutely. One year, before I got my Tour card, I qualified for [the AT&T Classic at] TPC Sugarloaf, and I got a lesson in efficiency. On Sunday, I was just playing so-so. I was paired with Briny Baird, and watching him pick apart the course was an education. He didn’t hit a single shot where you’d say, “Wow, that was great.” But he breezed around, moving the ball like a chess piece, and shot a 68, finishing around the top 10.
You probably felt like you had to hit awe-inspiring shots to be a Tour player, right?
Yes. [Baird] was unspectacular, but he was incredibly efficient. He made over $100,000. I shot a 75 and made about $13,000. On Tour, it’s easy to feel that you have to hit it like Adam Scott or Tiger Woods, but watching Briny taught me to get better at playing my game, to learn how to work my ball around the course. That helped me a lot.
You’re a big movie lover. What film can you watch over and over?
I love Troy and Gladiator. Those movies just don’t get old. I’ll bet I’ve watched them 10 times each. I love the part in Gladiator where Russell Crowe kills a bunch of guys really fast—takes one guy’s head right off—then throws his sword into the crowd, and says, “Are you not entertained?” That’s pretty cool.
If you want to make a video that goes viral, try that line after your next win.
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ll throw my putter in the crowd and yell, “Are you not entertained?” But that’s not really my style. And it’s hard to swing when you’re wearing sandals.
Chris Kirk: Three Things I Know for Sure
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT
In golf, searching for perfection is a trap—especially on Tour. Being among the best in the world, you think you should make a perfect swing, but that’s not what golf is about. In my win last year at TPC Boston, I played terribly the whole first day. And even when I shot a 66 on Sunday, I mis-hit some irons, but I still beat one of the year’s best fields. Don’t be so hard on yourself for not being perfect.
YOU DECIDE WHAT FUN IS
There’s no rule that says you have to shoot low scores to have a good time on the course. Make your goal something attainable. If you’re too busy to practice or play a lot, don’t beat yourself up for not breaking 80. If scoring is important, that’s fine—just know that you have to put in a lot of time and effort on your short game to post low numbers. It’s all about managing expectations.
MY FATHER KNOWS BEST
My dad [Gary] has been the biggest role model for me. I’m one of three boys, and both my dad and mom [Kim] were so supportive of all of us. They never pushed me into golf; they just encouraged me. I started playing at age 7, and if I kept my grades up, I could play all I wanted. Now that I have two kids, I’m lucky to have him as a role model for the kind of father I’m trying to be.