Professional golfers make a challenging game look simple on a daily basis, so it’s just as easy to lose sight of how difficult it is to remain among the game’s elite.
Even four-time winners on the PGA Tour have to grind for membership.
That was Chris Kirk’s situation this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii. The 35-year-old needed to finish in a two-way tie for third place or better this weekend at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu to retain his PGA Tour membership. Playing on the final start of his major medical extension after taking a months-long leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol abuse and depression, Kirk took a share of the lead into the clubhouse at 20 under on Sunday night at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Kevin Na would end up making birdie on the final hole for his fifth PGA Tour win, and while there aren’t any trophies or oversized checks for second place, Kirk’s T-2 was almost as good as a win.
“I never felt like it was a do-or-die type of situation,” Kirk said of his weekend challenge. In fact, he didn’t know where he needed to finish to retain his membership until he received an email from the Tour. “I wasn’t looking. I was just going and playing.”
“I’m so thankful to have the support of my family through these last few years, especially. It’s been incredible.” added Kirk. “You could have called them crazy for supporting me, but my wife Tahnee, my boys Sawyer, Foster and Wilder, I just love them so much and can’t wait to see them.”
Kirk has earned $18,130,139 throughout a PGA Tour career that features wins at the 2011 Viking Classic, 2013 McGladrey Classic, 2014 Deutsche Bank Championship and 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. In June 2020, Kirk ended a five-year victory drought, winning the King & Bear Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 18, 2021
The Athens, Georgia, resident said he was on his way to being an alcoholic from 2013-15 when he was at the peak of his career, noting how alcoholism is a progressive disease.
“After the next few years things kind of got worse,” said Kirk. “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 everyday and just be okay with who I am and what I’m doing, 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’s allowing me to potentially get back to the form that I had before and actually using the skillset that I’ve been blessed with.”
While an ultimatum wasn’t quite how Kirk planned his return to full-time membership on Tour, his lack of expectations when he returned to competition freed him up to enjoy a game he loves.
“I wouldn’t exactly have pegged this is the fashion that I did it, but when I came back, I came back with absolutely no expectations,” explained Kirk. “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.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/01/17/chris-kirk-pga-tour-sony-open-medical-exemption/