Chris Kirk entered the par-5 18th at the Honda Classic leading by one shot and in prime position to secure his first Tour win in eight years.
His tee shot found the fairway, but his second shot missed the green and found water in what he described as a “bad shot at the wrong time”. Kirk ultimately made bogey after missing the 16-and-a-half foot putt that would have sealed his win with a par.
Not a stranger to adversity, Kirk had one more chance to raise a trophy once again as he and Eric Cole headed back to the 18th for a playoff hole. This time, he conquered the formerly foe of a hole with a beautiful approach shot that allowed him to tap in for birdie.
After eight years, Kirk is a PGA Tour winner once again.
Kirk’s win was an unsurprisingly emotional and humbling one as he reflected on the personal challenges that led him to that moment.
“I just have so much to be thankful for. I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful for my sobriety. I’m so grateful for my family. I’m so grateful for everyone that’s supported me throughout the past three or four years especially. Thank you so much,” the now five-time winner said in his post-round interview.
Kirk took an indefinite leave from the Tour in May 2019 to get sober from alcohol, a move he announced on the eve of his 34th birthday. The Tennessee native returned to the Tour in November 2019.
In Kirk’s return to the Tour, his off-the-course wins began to happen on the course as he made the cut in his first event back, the 2019 Mayakoba Golf Classic.
His success since has come in a slow, steady roll as he tied for second at the 2021 Sony Open, a placement that allowed him to keep his Tour card. And now, has come again in 2023 as he outdueled Cole in their playoff hole, earning a birdie where he just minutes ago recorded a bogey.
None of these golf course victories can compare to the 34-year-olds sobriety, something he cites as the reason he’s even able to play, let alone win.
"“[Sobriety] is the reason why I’m able to play. It’s the reason why I have such a great relationship with my family. Everything that I have is because of that. I have to remember that first and foremost, and it’ll sink in eventually, but it certainly hasn’t right now.” – Chris Kirk"
Chris Kirk’s victory on Sunday was not one measured in a paycheck, FedEx standings, or Tour card status. His victory was a testament to the work he put in off the course and reminded all golfers that some wins are bigger than others, and often those wins have nothing to do with the game of golf.
At a non-Designated Tour event where the strength of field was questioned and critiqued, especially as LIV Golf kicked off their season the same weekend, viewers were able to see the unique weight Kirk’s win held. No, there were no flashy names in the field or grand implication to winning the tournament, but viewers were able to witness a champion who was playing for more that day.
At a time on the PGA Tour when the purses are bigger than ever and the committee works to implement changes that make the game more challenging and innovative, it is important to have moments like Kirk’s win within the sport.
The weight they hold is different and cannot be compared to the big payouts or star-studded fields that are thought to be needed to grow the game.