Chris Kirk’s wife details his triumphant, emotional journey to PGA TOUR Courage Award
11 Min Read
Written by Tahnee Kirk
Editor’s note: Chris Kirk received the 2023 PGA TOUR Courage Award on Tuesday. Kirk won The Classic in The Palm Beaches (formerly The Honda Classic) in February, marking his first PGA TOUR title in nearly eight years. Kirk took a leave of absence from the TOUR in May 2019 to address issues of alcohol abuse and depression. After a break of more than six months, Kirk returned to the TOUR and regained exempt status in 2021 through a Major Medical Extension. The following piece is written by his wife, Tahnee Kirk, about Chris’ journey.
Today is a very special day for our family. I am so proud of Chris and what he has overcome. After he won (The Classic in The Palm Beaches) earlier this year, everything was kind of brought to light again. Thinking about where he was when he first quit drinking almost five years ago now, it’s kind of crazy. And now for him to get the PGA TOUR’s Courage Award, well, it’s just amazing.
I know this award is going to mean so much to him, but I know that he is still going to think: “Why me?” He's not going to feel deserving because I feel like he thinks of getting sober more as what he had to do. He did, to a certain extent, have to do this. But I don't think he realizes what a big deal it is to be so open and honest, and how much that has helped so many people.
After all, he didn't have to share all of this. He could have kept it private. But I feel like just opening up to the public and showing that vulnerability is pretty amazing. Alcoholism and anxiety and depression are not really talked about that much, especially with men. I feel like he is very strong for being so open and honest and sharing all those parts of his story.
The Courage Award wasn’t on his radar at all. It’s been hard to keep it a secret. I’ve almost slipped up a couple of times, so I am glad the day is finally here. His mom and dad and our three boys and I will be there to surprise him. I told him the boys just wanted to go to a tournament. It's so important for our kids to see this. Our younger two, they don't really have any idea what he's gone through. Our oldest son does. It's important for them to see what can happen when you put your mind to something. To see how many people he has potentially helped by sharing his story is kind of crazy. I'm excited to see our kids see him get this award.
He went public with everything in May of 2019 when he posted on Twitter that he was going to take a leave of absence from the PGA TOUR to deal with his alcohol abuse and depression. But I actually had gone to him in November the previous year and said, “I think you have a problem.”
I feel like it was a slow progression. It was almost easy to miss that he was drinking a lot. It's not like he was going out and partying and making a scene. He was alone in hotels, and when he was home, you noticed he was not going to bed any night of the week without drinking. He's not really eating any meals without drinking. It was just more of, “Why do you need a drink with every single thing that you do? Why do you need a drink before you go to bed?”
Alcoholism runs in his family, so it made me think it was turning into something. I actually went to his mom first and she had noticed, too. The conversation with him was hard. And I think he was shocked because he didn’t see himself as having a problem.
He tried to quit by himself a couple of times after that but couldn’t. He was miserable. So, when he told me he wasn’t going to play golf for an indefinite amount of time, and he might never go back, I was like, “Okay, he’s serious about this.” Obviously, it’s a hard thing for everyone to know, but I hoped that would help him hold himself accountable. I hoped other people could help him. So, it was scary, but it just felt like the right thing to do at the time. And I saw a new determination in him. There wasn’t a discussion. He had his mind made up and just said, “This is what I’m doing.”
He decided on his own, which I think is the most important thing. In November, when I first went to him, I don’t know that he truly felt like he had a problem. It was like, “No, I can do this on my own. I don’t need help.”
But he did.
I worried about him. Can he do this? What does this mean for our family? Will he be able to go back and play golf? Obviously, he is the one who is supporting us. What does it mean for that? There were just a lot of unknowns at that time, and we kind of just had to let it go and just pray that he was going to get better, because that was the most important thing.
Thankfully, the PGA TOUR was amazing through all of that and allowed him to have the time to get better. I mean, he had no clue if he was going to go back and play or not. It was definitely hard in the beginning. I did not feel sorry for myself necessarily, but I'm like, “Man, I didn't sign up for this.” And then you throw kids into the mix and it's like, “What are we going to do? How are we going to handle this?” You want to shield them and protect them from it. But I think it is also important for them to know what's happening. When we were in the midst of it all, they were young, and they were just excited that he was home.
The first six months or so were the worst. They were hard for him mentally, and they were hard for me mentally because he was in a very negative space, and that is very hard to live with. He would try to put on a happy face with the kids. But there were so many things that I wouldn't think of that kind of would set him off. Going out to a restaurant for normal people, that's no big deal. But Chris associated that with, “I'm going to drink with my meal.”
Our first vacation after he quit drinking, he was miserable because I never really thought about it but, oh, you go to the beach, and you get a drink. A lot of people can do that without getting a drink, but that was his main focus.
It's like he slowly came back to himself, though. It’s not like he became a different person or anything. He started practicing golf again. He doesn't let things get him down and angry, like missed cuts, for instance. I'm not saying that those don't frustrate him, but it's such a difference in how he reacts to it now than how he reacted to it before because it's not everything. Whether he makes the cut or misses the cut, I just feel like he's always happy now and positive, which I know is not the case really, but I think it's easier for him to see the positive in the day-to-day now. Maybe he's finally realized that he does deserve what he has, and he has worked very hard to get what he has.
I had never been around addiction, so I read a lot about it. I did not go to Al-Anon, but I did talk to therapists myself. We did therapy together some, but really, it's easier to do it separately because, obviously, we were working with very different issues. I talked to his parents and my parents because I felt like it was important to talk to people whose opinions of him would not change, even if they knew the truth about what was happening. If you talk to the wrong person, that can just feed the negativity. Doing things like that helped a lot.
I think it was his mom who said to me, “You have to make a decision if this is what you want to do, if you're going to be there for it, and you have to stick with that. This is going to be hard, and are you willing to do the hard stuff?” From the beginning, that was kind of my thought: “Okay, can I do this? Do I want to do this?” And once I made that decision, it was like, “Okay, this is what I'm doing.” And you're not going to throw that back in his face. You're just going to be there and be present for him while he's going through this.
I was a little worried when he went back to play. Not that I thought golf was a negative thing, but I felt like a lot of the stress and the anxiety came from golf and obviously led to drinking. So that was scary. So was the thought of him being alone. But when he went back out, he did things very differently. He immediately tried to stay with people every time he was on the road, which helped him so much.
I'm so grateful to those guys who stayed with him because I don't know if they'll ever know how much they helped him. I don't think he would've been able to get back to doing what he loved without their support. He’d stay with his caddies and guys like Sepp Straka, Greyson Sigg and Brendon Todd, who were willing to get houses with him. They still stay with him, and it's like a frat house but without the drinking. They're playing Yahtzee and throwing baseballs and footballs. They're probably more like little boys than a frat house.
To see him win (The Classic in The Palm Beaches) was a bit of a shock for all of us. Not that it came out of nowhere, but I was just so excited for him because this is something he has been working on for so long, and he has worked so hard. So, to get to see him playing at this level again is pretty amazing
The Kirk family reacts to Chris' win at PGA National in 2023. (Credit Kirk Family)
There was a time when we didn't know if he would ever play this game he loved so much again. We got to watch him win with our neighbors and close friends. It was a pretty sweet moment. My boys just broke down in tears. Our oldest was only 3 years old the last time he won. So, it was great for all three of them to get to see it. His caddy FaceTime’d us, and I think he was probably still being interviewed. We were there on FaceTime, and he was talking to us and the interviewer, too. It's a fun memory. And our neighbor across the street, he's a photographer and a videographer, and he just set up his phone on our mantle towards the end of the tournament, of course, before we knew anything was going to happen. So, he just recorded every emotion, which was pretty cool.
Chris Kirk wins The Honda Classic
I feel like there's almost this peace to Chris now that wasn't there before. He doesn’t take himself so seriously, especially with the kids. He's like a kid himself. And with the boys, they just have so much fun. He coached their baseball teams when he took the time away from the TOUR. Now, the two oldest are playing golf, and he’s helping them. I feel like he's kind of carefree. He's just able to see the positive in the day-to-day, and he doesn't let things get to him as much as he used to. I feel like before, especially in golf, it was always just trying to keep up and constantly pushing. Not that he's not pushing now. I just feel like he sees that there are more important things.
In case you couldn’t tell, I'm so proud of him. I'm so glad that he chose himself in all of this, that he chose to do the hard work so that he can be the amazing husband that he is now and the amazing father that he is. If he hadn't done that, I can't imagine where we would be now. I definitely couldn't imagine our lives without him. So, I'm just mostly so grateful that he chose to do the work. And being able to help other people has, I think, been such a huge plus to all of this.