ORLANDO, FLORIDA (AP) – At the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, Chris Kirk had no knowledge about the event within the tournament.
He knew it was win or bust as he teed off four strokes off the lead. He didn’t find out until he finished in a tie for fifth place, two strokes behind Scottie Scheffler’s winning total, that his tie for fifth had secured him a ticket in the Open Championship this year.
Playing the Old Course is always special, but a berth in golf’s oldest tournament at the Home of Golf seemed redemptive for Kirk.
It wasn’t intended to be his first trip to St. Andrews for the tournament this year. Until fate intervened, he was set to play the 2015 tournament on the Old Course.
“I was meant to play in ’15,” Kirk recalled Sunday at Bay Hill, “but it was a late-night punching of the wall that we told all you guys [media] that I’d fallen in the yard or whatever.” “Not being able to attend The Open that year was a real bummer for me.” Getting to go this year is really big redemption for me.”
Kirk had been drinking for seven years when he punched a wall at his house and shattered his right hand. It cost him more than two months on Tour and a desired trip to St. Andrews, as well as leading him down an unexpected road.
Kirk revealed in May 2019 that he would be taking a break from the Tour due to alcoholism and depression. In November, he returned to play, telling PGATour.com that he needed to “drink the correct quantity at night so that I feel normal the next day.”
In 2015, a punch to the wall and a broken hand cost him the opportunity to compete in the Old Course Open, but it did, in retrospect, start the process that led to his sobriety.
Kirk, who was joined by Talor Gooch as Open qualifiers on Sunday, said, “I wouldn’t say it was a full-blown problem for me at that time, but it was moving in that direction.” “There were a lot of warning signs that I blew right through for a long time.” Then there’s a bunch more. It was something really inexcusable.”
That’s why Kirk’s victory in the tournament within the tournament at Bay Hill meant so much more to him than he could have imagined.