OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Talk to a professional golfer who says they’ve never been through adversity, and you’re likely chatting with someone hiding the truth. It’s part of golf and of life, and often the stories that resonate most are from those who are open with their struggles and overcome them.
Case in point: Lucas Glover, who suffered through the putting yips for several years, conquered them, openly discussed them, and entered this week’s BMW Championship as a back-to-back TOUR winner.
Also, case in point: Chris Kirk, Glover’s longtime mentee.
Kirk opened the BMW Championship with back-to-back rounds of 4-under 66 at Olympia Fields Country Club (North Course), the low score through Friday’s early finishers at 8 under. Kirk, 38, entered the week at 29th on the FedExCup standings, squarely on the bubble for a spot at next week’s TOUR Championship via the top 30. After completing his round Friday, he was projected fourth on the season-long standings.
Kirk last qualified for the TOUR Championship in 2014. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be back.
Four years ago, Kirk took a competitive leave to deal with issues of alcohol abuse and depression. He didn’t shy away from his struggles. He was transparent with the media – including an appearance on Scott Van Pelt’s podcast – and was content with not knowing whether he could regain elite form that included a second-place finish on the 2014 FedExCup.
Kirk wasn’t sure he’d ever get back to a lofty position in the game, but here he is, a winner at The Honda Classic earlier this year – one of the season’s defining moments so far – with another legitimate chance at the FedExCup title.
The idea that Glover and Kirk could take this season’s first two Playoffs titles almost seems scripted. After graduating from the University of Georgia in 2007 and moving to St. Simons Island, Georgia, early in his professional career, Glover took Kirk under his wing (as did Davis Love III) as Kirk was getting his feet wet on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he spent three seasons before earning his first TOUR card for 2011.
Kirk assimilated their teachings – whether it came to conduct at a corporate outing, interacting with peers on the range or bringing the proper level of competitiveness. When Kirk earned his TOUR card, he picked their brains on everything from restaurants to hotels to the tournament cadence.
“The two of those guys were definitely the most influential,” Kirk said, “and the people that I could trust and knew were there for me.”
The connection has stood the test of time; Glover was among those to lend support during Kirk’s competitive leave.
Kirk was asked Thursday about Glover’s back-to-back wins this month, and his face lit up.
“It brings a smile to my face just talking about it,” Kirk said, “because I know how hard he’s worked. I think when people see somebody really struggle like he did with his putting for a number of years, and then all of a sudden you’re able to see him kind of freed up and making putts and having fun and shooting low scores every day … Somebody that’s played on TOUR and won as many times as he has, he didn’t have to keep fighting and didn’t have to keep grinding it out and working at it, but he did.
“To see him have that kind of success is awesome.”
Similar sentiments could be applied to Kirk. Although early-career success seemed easy – he became a four-time winner midway through his fifth TOUR season – he wasn’t always comfortable. He says now that he doesn’t like how his swing looked 10 years ago – so much so, he dislikes watching it on video. He didn’t always view himself favorably as a person, either, before making the courageous decision to seek help for off-course issues.
Kirk knew change would be necessary to find fulfillment in life, let alone golf, and he’s well on his way to finding both. Perhaps in greater ways than he could have imagined. Even during his run to the 2014 FedExCup runner-up, at the peak of his early-career form, Kirk was seen by some as an underdog, still left with something to prove.
In recent years, Kirk has proven himself plenty and is perhaps stronger for it – just like his mentor Glover. The issue is different, but the mental fortitude to recover can certainly compare.
Not that he’s suddenly immune to week-to-week struggles with the game. Kirk admits he was “beating my head against the wall a little bit” with his game earlier this summer, where he missed five cuts in a seven-event span. After the second round of last week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship, he changed putters (from Odyssey White Hot OG #5 to Odyssey White Hot Versa #7). It was a small tweak – he kept the same weight, length, loft and lie – but sometimes that’s all it takes. He closed with rounds of 67-66 at TPC Southwind for a T16 finish, and he has carried the form to Chicagoland.
What has been working well for Kirk so far at Olympia Fields?
“Everything,” Denny McCarthy answered, walking past as Kirk pondered his response.
If that form holds this weekend, the Playoffs theme of comeback stories could carry on.
Source : PGA Tour