This past May PGA Tour player Chris Kirk announced he was taking a leave of absence for alcohol abuse and depression. The news came a day before Kirk's 34th birthday.
"I have dealt with alcohol abuse and depression for some time now," Kirk said in a statement. "I thought I could control it, but after multiple relapses I have come to realize that I can't fix this on my own. I will be taking an indefinite leave from the PGA Tour to deal with these issues. I don't know when I will be back, but for now I need my full focus on being the man my family deserves. Thank you for the support."
This week, Kirk—who is set to return to golf at the Mayakoba event—revealed the extent of his battle in an interview with the PGA Tour.
According to Kirk, there is a history of alcoholism in his family. When he and his wife began having children, Kirk says the pressures to provide did a number on his anxiety, leading to an increase in drinking while he was on the road. Though he says he never drank before or during a round, he says he needed something in his system to feel right.
“I've got to drink the right amount at night so that I feel normal the next day,” Kirk told the PGA Tour's Helen Ross. “Not too much so that I'm really hung over, but I can't not have anything or I'm going to feel weird the next day.”
Noticing a weight gain from his drinking, Kirk quit beer and moved to wine, vodka and bourbon. “Switching from beer to hard liquor probably accelerated things for me a little bit as well,” he says.
Kirk briefly quit drinking in the fall of 2018, but that abstinence proved fleeting. His drinking was putting a strain on his relationship with his wife. Finally, in a hotel in New Orleans last April, Kirk decided he need to take a sabbatical from golf in order to get his life under control.
"Everybody has issues," Kirk says. "Everybody has stuff that is bothering them that they need to work on. This just happens to be my thing."
Kirk talked to a psychiatrist who prescribed medication to help with the anxiety, and he has also worked with a sports psychologist. He has gone to support groups, and says a number of fellow players have reached out to help. The 12-step program he's undertaken has been successful.
Though he didn't pick up a club for nearly four months, Kirk started to practice a few times a week in preparation for his return. He says he has no expectations, which he admits seems odd, but his focus is not letting his career make him miserable.
“I am not willing to go back to making it feel like a job. I am not willing to go back to beating myself up when I do not play well," Kirk says. "That is something that is a struggle for every PGA Tour player because you are out there. Everything is right there for everyone to see. When you play well, people treat you differently than when you do not play well. You have the tendency to treat yourself a lot differently when you play well than when you do not play well.”
Reaching as high as No. 16 in the world rankings, Kirk is a four-time winner on tour and was a member of the 2015 United States Presidents Cup team. Kirk's last win came four years ago at the 2015 Colonial. He had made the FedEx Cup Playoffs in the past eight consecutive seasons before 2019.