ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Chris Kirk, who walked away from competitive golf for more than six months in 2019 to focus on his mental health and sobriety, was given the PGA Tour Courage Award at the RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort on Tuesday.
The PGA Tour Courage Award, which has been presented to a golfer only six times, is given to a person who “through courage and perseverance has overcome extraordinary adversity such as personal tragedy or debilitating injury or illness to make a significant and meaningful contribution to the game of golf.”
Kirk, 38, returned to the PGA Tour in the fall of 2019 and regained exempt status in 2021 with a major medical extension. Earlier this season, he captured his fifth PGA Tour victory with a playoff win over Eric Cole in the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on Feb. 26. It was his first victory since 2015.
“It takes me back very much to April and May of 2019 and where I was at that time in my life,” Kirk said Tuesday. “I didn’t really feel like I was going to play golf again, much less be here with all of you and to have won again on the tour. I’m really just blown away. I’m beyond thankful for my family, especially for [his wife] Tahnee for staying with me and supporting me through these difficult years. I just am so blessed and thankful to currently live a life better than I could have ever imagined.”
Kirk called the mental clarity he wakes up with every day “an absolute blessing,” and thanked his friends and fellow PGA Tour members for helping him along the way to sobriety. He called his journey a fact-finding process, in which he learned a lot about himself.
“I mostly learned a lot of things that I didn’t like about myself, to be honest,” Kirk said. “I think one thing that really has defined me as a person for a long time is perseverance, determination. I probably have an excess of that, so I’m just very thankful that I was able to set that to a good use and [determine] how I can from here forward go about being the best father and husband that I can be. That’s kind of been my main focus and then eventually after that, working on becoming a professional golfer again.”
At some of his lowest points, Kirk said, he sat in hotel rooms alone, missing his family. He and his wife have three sons.
“I had a lot of really bad memories of sitting in hotel rooms by myself playing in PGA Tour events and missing my family and just not really wanting to be there,” Kirk said. “So I got to the point where I kind of felt like golf did this to me. Golf, the pressures of professional golf and having to travel by myself all the time, that’s how I felt. I know now that that’s not true. So I really had kind of a little bit of hate for competitive golf and everything that came with it.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Kirk is a friend and mentor to many players on tour.
“Professional athletes have an incredible platform to help others and Chris’ honesty, candor and courage in speaking publicly about dealing with a very personal situation has inspired so many people with everyday struggles,” Monahan said.
Brian Harman credited Kirk, his former University of Georgia teammate, with resiliency and self-awareness.
“That’s a really hard thing to come to grips with and know about yourself, then to take action,” Harman said. “To take the time off and work hard and come back and win at the Honda Classic is really incredible. It speaks to his ability to not quit and to do the right thing.”
Kirk said he initially went public with his struggles and recovery “for a little bit of accountability.”
“I spent a lot of years really lying to a lot of people,” Kirk said. “Lying to my family, lying to my friends, lying to myself as much as anybody. So, once I got to the point where I could wake up in the morning and I could look at myself in the mirror and kind of be OK with who I was and what I was going to do that day, that was such a freeing feeling of just open honesty.”