Courage Award winner, Chris Kirk calls Sentry win unreal after returning from a low in life

Chris Kirk poses for photos during the trophy ceremony of The Sentry at The Plantation Course at Kapalua, Photo: PGA TOUR via Getty Images

American Chris Kirk got his New Year off to a flying start with a stylish victory at The Sentry in Hawaii. It was his sixth PGA TOUR career victory, and the second in 11 months. The 38-year-old has been on a renaissance after overcoming alcohol abuse and depression in 2019 and returning to the winner’s circle in 2023 after almost eight years — and was recently recognized with the TOUR’s 2023 Courage Award at the end of last year. Here he writes his story:

By Chris Kirk, winner of the Sentry on PGA Tour

Winning The Sentry in my first start of the 2024 PGA TOUR Season is unreal. It’s just so unexpected. I had a really great off-season and I got a lot of good work done and felt good about the year, but you never really expect to shoot 29-under and win a tournament. It’s unbelievable and I’m still soaking it all in.

I’ve worked hard on my game and spent a lot of time in the gym, and also working on my mental game. I didn’t actually play a whole lot of golf and I didn’t practice that much. To come over to Hawaii and to play as well as I did, I’m very thankful and a little bit surprised.

Once the FedExCup Playoffs were done last August, I played in two tournaments in the fall and spent more time in the gym from September through December than I’ve ever had in the past. I’ve always worked out some but last year was definitely the hardest I’ve gone in the gym. That was a big thing to my preparation for 2024.

I think for me, the harder I work at my fitness and the stronger and fitter I feel, then that sort of carries over to a lot of things. Also, Zach Sorensen, who is the Atlanta Braves’ mental coach, started working with me from early last year and we were able to dig in and look into a lot of different things and work out how my brain ticks, and what we can do to improve. He’s been a huge help.

Another fun thing I always do every December is that some of my friends and I would play every day for a week left-handed, and we were all terrible. It was just a lot of bantering and having fun goofing off. For me to feel really great about a shot that I hit right-handed, it’s got to be something phenomenal, something like on 17 during the final round at The Sentry where I hit it really close with my 5 iron for a birdie.

Playing left-handed, if I hit the fairway or if I hit a 7-iron on the green, like, yeah, that’s an awesome feeling. If you make two pars in a row while playing left-handed, that’s unbelievable. I find it helps bring back a little bit of the childlike nature of the game, and my expectations are so low it is way easier to be happy about what I’m doing than it is right-handed, to be honest.

The final day at The Sentry was an unbelievable day. I’m thankful I was able to play as well as I did to shoot a closing 65 and I was nervous. Somehow, I was able to stay calm and played really solid golf all day. I kept reminding myself of no matter how I felt, no matter how nervous I was, there was nothing really stopping me from hitting great shots, hitting great putts, and I was able to remind myself of that before every shot, including that 5 iron into the 17th.

At this stage of my career, I just enjoy competing, I’m enjoying the work that I love which I didn’t have that for a while and to be back to loving what I do, I love the process of working to be the best player that I can be, and then working on being as good of a father and husband as I can when I’m off the golf course. It’s a constant process and I’m loving every minute of it.

Chris Kirk poses with his family as he receives the Courage Award prior to the RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club on November 14, 2023 in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
Photo: Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

When I look back now, the best thing that I’ve ever done in my life was to get sober and to go public about this. It certainly has been helpful and beneficial for me to be open and be public about it. I live a decent amount of my life sort of in the public view, somewhat anyways, and the biggest thing for me was waking up every morning and looking at myself in the mirror and knowing I’ve got nothing to hide, and I can be proud of who I am. I didn’t feel like that was really going to be quite as possible if I was not open about it and worked through my personal challenges.

I don’t feel by going public about my story it’s taking away from anything that I’m accomplishing on the golf course. It’s a hundred percent the reason why I’m able to do what I do. My PGA TOUR career would have been over a while ago had I not gotten sober. So yeah, I’m fine with that staying with me until the day I die. I guess it was just more of the freedom of not lying to myself and lying to other people and there is some sense of accountability. I felt free for the first time in a long time.

I’ll try to decompress a little bit before teeing up at the Sony Open in Hawaii this week. Waialae is a golf course that I’ve played so many times and I’ve had some good success over the years. When I tee off on Thursday, what I did at The Sentry doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all square, and we try to do it all over again.

Note: Fans can watch the PGA TOUR and this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii on Eurosport

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