Kirk already has his major victory
Updated: Jan 22
Brian Barnes shot a 4-under-par 68 in the third round of the 1992 Dubai Desert Classic. Not bad for a 47 year old in a field of young bucks.
Pretty good, too, considering Barnes’ water bottle that day had a good mix of orange juice and vodka. It wasn't the first time the Scot set out for a round of golf with an adequate supply of liquor.
Barnes, who died in 2019, struggled with alcoholism during in his career. It led to bouts of depression that induced suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, a successful spell at The Priory meant he finished his life tea total, becoming a respected pundit on Sky Sports.
Whether Chris Kirk’s battle with alcohol included similar depths of despair is obviously his private business. Hopefully not. And hopefully the Atlanta native has his career, and more importantly, his life back on track.
It certainly seems so after the first event of the PGA Tour season. The former Walker Cup player was playing his last event of a major medical extension exemption and needed a top-three finish to regain full playing privileges on the world’s best circuit. Joint second place helped the 35-year-old do just that. Not bad for a guy who wondered a few years ago if his career was over.
Kirk was part of the victorious 2007 American Walker Cup team along with Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Kyle Stanley and Rickie Fowler, arguably the strongest U.S. Walker Cup team ever. Certainly strong enough to overcome a pretty decent Great Britain & Ireland team featuring future major winners in Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett.
It was no surprise when Kirk won four PGA Tour titles between 2011-2014. He finished second in the 2014 FedEx Cup thanks to two of those four victories. He reached a career high of 16th on the Official World Golf Ranking in 2015. However, not all was right in Kirk’s life. He was battling the bottle.
“Alcoholism is a very progressive disease,” he said in Hawaii. “At the time, in 2014–15, I probably was not an alcoholic; I was just on the way to being one. After the next few years, things kind of got worse.”
He’s a reformed character now. Hopefully he’ll stay that way.
“I’m in a great place mentally and physically and OK with who I am,” he added. “It’s allowing me potentially to get back the form I had before and actually use the skill set I’ve been blessed with.”
Kirk and Barnes aren’t the first players to succumb to the lure of alcohol. Sadly, they may not be the last. The life of a tour pro isn’t all money and glamour. There are a lot of lonely hours to fill on the road.
There was a pretty strong drinking culture on the European Tour when I began my career in golf journalism at the beginning of the 1990s. I witnessed a few players enjoying a few heavy drinking sessions in those early days. I even participated in a few. Most of these sessions either took place after players had missed the cut, or early in the week. I didn’t see too many players getting hammered the night before tournament rounds.
The drinking session days are long gone. Most modern players are in the gym, not the bar. There’s too much money to be made for anyone to risk a career by taking to the bottle. The last thing any player wants is shaky hands over a three-foot putt to win a tournament.
It’s no exaggeration to say Kirk, Johnson, Horschel and Fowler were considered potential major winners in that 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team. Johnson beat them in that race, but Kirk already has a major victory. Beating alcoholism is far more important than winning an Open Championship, a U.S. Open, a PGA Championship or becoming the owner of a gaudy green jacket.
#JustSaying: “Moderation is essential in all things, Madam, but never in my life have I failed to beat a teetotaller.” Harry Vardon