Sunday, February 25, 2024

By Chuah Choo Chiang

The writer is the senior director, of marketing and communications – APAC for the PGA Tour and is based in Malaysia. Fans can watch the PGA TOUR on Eurosport.

The who’s who in golf including Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Tom Kim feature prominently on the PGA Tour’s roll of honour in the recently concluded 2023 Season.

Throw in Chris Kirk and some would be asking, Chris who?

In one of the most compelling stories of the year, the 38-year-old American has stood tall with his perseverance and determination evoking just as much inspiration to fans from all walks of life.

Kirk not only won The Classic at the Palm Beaches (formerly the Honda Classic) this year for his fifth career PGA Tour title which ended an eight-year drought. He won something even greater – he beat alcoholism and depression and has since become an advocate to others battling the same demons which haunted him for years.

For his triumph over adversity, Kirk received the 2023 PGA Tour Courage Award. “I didn’t really feel like I was going to play golf again much less be here with all of you,” said Kirk in a ceremony attended by family, Tour officials and peers during the RSM Classic, the season’s final official event, last week.

After a stellar amateur career, his rise in the professional ranks was rapid as he won four times on the Tour from 2011 to 2015. He became a world top 20 player, emerged as a hero by securing a crucial point for the U.S. to win the Presidents Cup 15 ½ – 14 ½ in Korea in 2015 and looked destined to be amongst the greats of his generation.

Behind his growing fame and away from the glare of cameras, Kirk was embroiled in different battles that there were occasions he would wake up in a daze in his hotel room, with lights still on and in the same clothes from the previous day.

In short, Kirk passed out drunk.

He tried to quit a few times on his own, but after some weeks of abstinence, the anxiety and depression that contributed to his issues would become too much to bear again. He’d pop open another drink and found himself back in a dark place.

In sharing his story, Kirk recalls the date April 29, 2019, for it was the day he finally owned up to his family and closest friends. With their wife Tahnee’s support, he found a support group to help address the underlying issues that led him to drink that he was able to successfully quit for good. A week after his last drink and a day before his 34th birthday, he announced his decision to take a leave of absence from the Tour. “I have dealt with alcohol abuse and depression for some time now. I thought I could control it, but after multiple relapses I have come to realize I can’t fix this on my own … for now I need my full focus on being the man my family deserves,” he wrote on his social channels.

Ultimately, Kirk knew he needed a wake-up call. “I was just fighting it. Finally, 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. I realized I truly do not have control over this,” said the father of three young boys.

Six months later, he returned on Tour, and slowly but surely found his feet and golf swing again. He now had a bigger purpose in life. In the ensuing years leading up to his return into the winner’s circle, his world ranking has shot up from being outside the top 300 to his current 52nd position. He finished 32nd on the FedExCup standings this season, his second best achievement in 13 years, following a victory and four top 10s.

By sharing his struggles publicly, Kirk hopes to encourage others in the same boat to seek help. “I’ve had probably 30 or 40, maybe 50 stories that I’ve heard directly of people that have said things along the lines of, ‘I saw you do this and I figured if you could do it, … if you could shut everything down and do what you had to do to get yourself better, then why couldn’t I?'”

“I owe everything that I have in my entire life to my sobriety. I came really close to losing everything that I cared about. It’s pretty easy 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.

“It’ll be a lot of celebrating, and I thank God that alcohol won’t be a part of it.”

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