‘I thank God that alcohol won’t be part of it’: Chris Kirk opens up on his fight
All of this is a bonus to Chris Kirk. All of it.
His wedge to a foot?
His mistake just a hole earlier?
The fact that he’s playing golf for a paycheck?
Bonus, bonus, bonus, bonus. All of it. And that’s it really. But it’s deep. Kirk, almost four years sober now after a battle with alcoholism, won the Honda Classic on Sunday, his first victory on the PGA Tour in nearly eight years, and folks wanted to dig into it. They wanted to know about the journey. They wanted to know how he felt now. And he was happy to answer.
Because even that is a bonus.
“Yeah, I owe everything that I have in my entire life to my sobriety,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing this for a living anymore. I probably wouldn’t have the family that I have currently anymore. I came really close to losing everything that I cared about.
“For that to have happened and worked out for me, obviously there were some decisions that I made, but mostly the grace of God and a lot of other people that really helped me along the way. But yeah, it’s something that’s constantly on my mind, so it’s pretty easy for me to see that winning the Honda Classic is kind of a bonus when literally every good thing I have in my life I owe to that.”
Before we get more into Sunday, though, let’s look back. In the golf circle, Kirk is a player. His game is complete. But if you’re looking just at resumes, the Georgia native is good there, too. In 2011, four years into his pro career, he won. From 2013 to 2015, he won three more times. In 2015, he played on the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
And in May of 2019, he was done. He said he’d been battling alcoholism and depression for a while. He wouldn’t come back until November. In an excellent piece on the PGA Tour’s website (which you should take the time to read here), he described his breaking point this way:
“I was just fighting it and fighting it. Finally, after a couple of relapses, if that is what you want to call it, in April it was just like, ‘OK, I can’t do this anymore. I have got to change something because I am going to end up with nothing. …’
“It was when I realized I just really, truly do not have control over this, because I really wanted to not be doing it and I still was.”
In his return, there have been milestones. He made the cut in that first start back, at the 2019 Mayakoba Golf Classic. In January of 2021, needing a finish of third or better at the Sony Open to keep his Tour membership, he tied for second. He posted three more top 10s that year, and last season, he had another four.
This year, Kirk’s been maybe better, with a third at the Sony in January, and a tie for third at the American Express a week later. At the Honda, the 37-year-old opened with a one-under 69. Then he shot a 62. And a 66.
And now we’re back to Sunday, where Kirk opened the day with a two-shot lead. And he came to the 18th, after an entertaining back-and-forth with 34-year-old Tour rookie Eric Cole, up one. And then came the mistake we mentioned earlier. He got aggressive with his second shot on the par-5, his ball hit a rock short of the green and bounced into water, and he went to a playoff. But then came the wedge to a foot we also mentioned, and Cole parred, and Kirk birdied, and he’s a Tour winner again.
Whew. We just ran through the past three years of his life in six paragraphs. But Kirk can do it better: He can kind of sum up how he got through it all in a word.
Go back and read the first paragraph.
All of this is a bonus to Chris Kirk. All of it.
“Yeah, definitely still trying to wrap my head around it, for sure, but I’m just so thankful to be able to do what I do for a living,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have the life that I have, and to have the opportunity to compete on a stage like this, in a tournament like this, and to be able to pull it off is a huge bonus for me.”
It’s a message he plans to share, too.
“It’s been amazing getting to connect with people and meet people that have — I couldn’t really put a number on it, but it’s been a lot of people that have reached out to me directly and said, I read your story or I heard your story and that made me decide that it was time.
“When I first came back to playing and was very open and honest about it, that was not in my mind at all. It was more — it was for me because I felt I had lived this life for a number of years where I was just lying to myself, lying to my family, lying to — hiding a lot of things. So the honesty of the process that I went through to get better just felt so good that I had nothing to hide, and so it was just the natural thing for me to do.
“But now on the back end a little bit, it’s been amazing. Like I said, it’s not something that I really saw happening, but to be able to connect with people and hear people that — for somebody to say, I got sober because of you, and my life has changed because of you, you can’t really describe how unreal that is with words.”
We’ll end things with how Kirk’s press conference ended. It started playfully. A reporter was curious whether Sunday night would be the first time Kirk would celebrate a PGA Tour win without alcohol, and he answered indirectly. He’d drink some Diet Cokes.
He then had this exchange:
“What’s it like to do something that’s so different and says a lot about what you’ve gone through in your life?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t really think about it, to be honest with you,” Kirk said. “I mean, I just am so excited to celebrate tonight with my friends, and obviously wish that my wife and kids were down here with me, but I’ll get to see them on Wednesday. They’re coming down for Bay Hill next week.
“It’ll be a lot of celebrating, and I thank God that alcohol won’t be a part of it.”