Kirk’s sobriety, final-hole birdie leads to first victory in five years

Kirk’s sobriety, final-hole birdie leads to first victory in five years

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Chris Kirk considered quitting golf a year ago. The demons that controlled his life sent him spiraling out of control as he dealt with the pressure with a game that never was supposed to be so difficult.

He thought he found resolution in the bottle.

Kirk continued his professional and personal comeback Saturday afternoon with a three-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win the King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village.

A four-time winner on the PGA TOUR won for the first time since winning the Charles Schwab Challenge at Forth Worth, Texas in 2015 by getting up-and-down on the final hole to beat Justin Lower by a shot.

Kirk finished with 5-under 67 for a four-day total of 26-under 262.

The victory was worth $108,000. But what it meant to his recovery was priceless.

“It gives me a deeper sense of appreciation and gratitude for everything, Kirk said. “I’m a completely different person than I was two years ago. When you’re faced with a situation where you’re completely out of control of your own life, it changes things.”

Kirk took an indefinite leave of absence from the TOUR a year ago to deal with his drinking problem and depression. He quickly learned the answers couldn’t be found in a cocktail or on the golf course.

“I didn’t touch a club for three and a half months and was able to get some help thankfully and get myself back on the right track,” he said. “I think my alcoholism may have happened to me no matter what, but part of it was being on the road away from my family, which I hate, and the pressure of golf and trying to maintain a high level of playing became too much for me.

“I hate that it did but taking that break and getting some help gave me some perspective that maybe this isn’t as important as we make it out to be. Yes, it’s my career and my passion and what I love to do, but there are bigger things in life. I can’t wait to get home [Saturday night] and give my wife and three boys a hug and that’s what I care more about now, it’s amazing seeing the complete shift in my mentality as far as that’s concerned.”

Kirk quickly erased a four-shot deficit during the final round. Vince India led by four after 54 holes, but a final-round 76 dropped him to an eight-way tie for sixth-place. Included in that group was Nocatee’s Jared Wolfe.

Lower birdied four of the final five holes, including a birdie at 18, for a 66. All he could do is watch helplessly as Kirk clinched the win with a birdie.

“It was a great week,” he said. “Things were working better than it has been. I made one bogey each day, just one little mistake each day here and there and that’s golf, that’s the way it is, but I’m proud of the way I fought toward the end.”

Joseph Bramlett (64) and Will Zalatoris (68) finished tied for third, while Wes Roach (68) was fifth.

Bramlett finished second a week earlier at the Korn Ferry Challenge at Pete Dye’s Valley Course and TPC Sawgrass.

Kirk hopes to play his way back onto the PGA TOUR. If so, he will embrace the opportunity.

“Everybody out here works really hard, but that guarantees you absolutely nothing and so that was one of the feelings I was having, that I didn’t want to beat my head against the wall anymore,” Kirk said. “But after not playing for a few months it was easy to remember why I love playing and competing. There are times it can beat you down, but the success and the good times are well worth it.”

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