ORLANDO, Fla. – Chris Kirk had no idea of the tournament within the tournament Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
When he teed off four shots off the lead, he figured it was victory or bust. It wasn’t until he finished with an even-par 72 and two shots behind Scottie Scheffler’s winning total, that he learned his tie for fifth had earned him a spot in this year’s Open Championship.
Playing the Old Course is always special, but for Kirk, a spot in golf’s oldest championship at the Home of Golf felt redemptive.
This year’s championship will be his first trip to St. Andrews, but it wasn’t supposed to be. He was slated to play the ’15 championship on the Old Course until fate intervened.
Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational
“I was supposed to play in ’15, 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 something,” Kirk explained Sunday at Bay Hill. “That was pretty crushing for me to not be able to go to The Open that year. This is some serious redemption for me to get to go this year.”
Kirk had been drinking seven years ago when he broke his right hand punching a wall at his home. It cost him more than two months on Tour, as well as a coveted trip to St. Andrews, and set him on an unexpected path.
In May 2019, Kirk announced he was taking a leave from the Tour for alcohol abuse and depression. He returned to competition in November and explained in an interview with PGATour.com that he needed “to drink the right amount at night so that I feel normal the next day.”
The punched wall and broken hand in 2015 cost him a chance to play an Old Course Open but it did, in retrospect, begin the process that led to his sobriety.
“I wouldn’t say it was a full-on problem for me at that time, but it was headed in that direction,” said Kirk, who was joined by Talor Gooch as Open qualifiers on Sunday. “There were a lot of warning signs that I blew right through for a lot of years. A bunch more after that. It was something that was just stupid.”
It’s why winning the tournament within the tournament at Bay Hill meant more to Kirk than he would have ever imagined.