Why Chris Kirk’s improbable Sony Open finish was the story of the week

Chris Kirk

Chris Kirk is back to full-time status on the PGA Tour.

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Three holes into his final round Sunday in Hawaii, Chris Kirk’s job security was in serious danger. This was his last chance to retain full membership on the PGA Tour, and he had made two early bogeys.

Kirk was playing on a major medical extension after taking a seven-month leave of absence from the game to battle alcoholism, anxiety and depression. With now less than one round remaining on that exemption, Kirk was 13 under and half a dozen shots back of the lead at the Sony Open. He was hopeful to get conditional PGA Tour status at the very least, but a top 3 finish was what he was truly after. Along with it, he’d get many more Tour starts in 2021 to continue proving himself. But on Sunday afternoon, it appeared that despite the long road he had traveled, he would come up just shy of keeping his Tour card. 

But then he went off. 

Kirk made birdie on the 6th, 8th and 9th holes to make the turn in 34 and eek his way closer to leaders Brendan Steele and Kevin Na. The broadcast began to discuss the merits of his late rally. Could he make enough birdies to finish in the top 3?

Another birdie followed at 12. Then another at 13. A third straight circle on his scorecard at 14 meant, suddenly, Kirk wasn’t just chasing job security with a top 3 finish. He was chasing the ultimate job security by winning a Tour event, which would keep him playing on the Tour until at least September 2023. 

A trio of nervy pars would follow before the par-5 and super gettable 18th. Kirk’s second shot came up short of the green, meaning he would need to get up and down to guarantee that top 3 finish he was grinding for the entire time. From 26 yards away, he pitched it inside a foot and a half for a tap-in birdie, a final-round 65 and full status on the PGA Tour moving forward. 

“That could have been a career-saving shot,” Mark Rolfing said on the Golf Channel broadcast, describing Kirk’s touch on the 72nd hole. That’s exactly what it was. 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.

“I would have never guessed it would work out this way, this week,” Kirk would say after the round. “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.”

The man has been through a lot, and he’s been open with sharing his thoughts on alcoholism in general and his own battle with it to reach where he is right now. The four-time Tour winner now has a taste of the job security he had years ago, back when he was ranked as high as 16th in the world and playing on the 2015 American Presidents Cup team. 

“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.”


Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.