Celebrate Good Times
How well did Chris Kirk celebrate his win at The Sentry? We turn to the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale
When last we left you, Ludvig Aberg was setting a brand new C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale record with his maiden victory at the RSM Classic, and the cold winter loomed. Now the fallow weeks have passed, and we are BACK. This time, it was Chris Kirk taking down The Sentry in sunny Hawaii and adding another chapter to an incredible comeback story for someone who in 2019 took an indefinite leave from the PGA Tour to manage his alcoholism and depression. It was a triumph when he won for the first time in nearly eight years at the Honda Classic last March, and it's a triumph again to see what he did in Hawaii. But of course, here at the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale, we are agnostic to the "bigger picture", bound rather to judge how well a player celebrated in his victory moment.
Here's a quick reminder of how THE C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. SCALE works: Using 11 different criteria, each rated from 1-10, we come up with a comprehensive score that can be used as a measure of excellence and a comparison to past and future celebrations. The criteria:
Crowd Work: When you win, are you a man of the people, saluting the folks outside of the ropes?
Elation: How much did you let loose?
Looper Moment: That first hug/fist bump/whatever with the caddie is so important.
Emotion: You know you get MASSIVE points for tears in this one.
Body Work: Separate from elation/emotion, how good was the sheer physicality?
Relations: Family? Friends? Agents?
Awkwardness: Golf can be an awkward sport; here, we’re OK with that that—and we reward it.
Theatrics: A catch-all category for any other BIG elements of the celebration.
Interview: The victory interview … how well did they respond?
Opponent interaction: Was there respect shown to the enemy? We love respect.
N-tangibles: Anything—and everything—else.
In the ratings below, we'll refer to this video, which we thank the PGA Tour for providing:
1. Crowd Work
Not an ounce of it! Not an ounce! To be fair, there is a brief moment after his putt goes down when Kirk is blocked out by Akshay Bhatia's caddie, but frankly it was too quick for me to believe Kirk acknowledged the crowd at Kapalua. It simply couldn't have gone down in that narrow window. Now, I'm not picking on Kirk, or not just on Kirk. There's a massive new trend of players like him who win a tournament and don't even bother with even a short wave to the gallery. Kirk is just the latest offender, but whether he's a victim of his time or a serious crowd-eschewer, we simply cannot abide it. To all the professional golfers who are surely reading this post: Be like Ludvig and give the fans their due! They paid money to see (and perhaps heckle) you! Get in there among the people!
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Very, very even-keeled, this Mr. Kirk. Granted, the final putt wasn't very long, so there wasn't a ton of drama in that sense, but he did only win by a single stroke, and he kept his lead by hitting a ridiculously great pressure shot on 17, so he had room to go a little wild if he wanted. We see the slightest bit of elation at both 0:19 and 0:35 in the way he hugs and claps his caddie on the shoulder, but you need to be an expert in this stuff like me to even detect it. There's mostly just a placid kind of happiness here, and while that's good for him, we have to ding him in this category.
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3. Looper Moment
Kirk has a long history of rotating caddies, a strange but not unheard of practice on tour, but he seems to have a good thing going with Michael Cromie, who was on the bag this week and at the Honda Classic. Cromie, a former player himself at Kirk’s alma mater (Georgia), was the first person he turned to after winning the putt, and their hug at 0:15 was a classic MAN HUG, with hard pats on the back, and then they both simultaneously kind of shoved each other playfully—another gesture of classic dude affection. Then, after shaking hands with the other players and caddies, Cromie approaches him again, puts his hand on his shoulder, and Kirk embraces him with one arm, wraps him up with the other, then gives him another shove. All in all, great stuff—just two fellas showing each other they like each other with some strong embraces and mild violence.
Kevin C. Cox
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Kirk takes a very matter-of-fact tone with the press, so he's not one to break down crying or crack a joke or really break from his somewhat monotonous and clipped delivery. He even does the thing where at the end of a sentence, he gives a look at his interviewer (in this case Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis) in a way that is not impolite or even necessarily cold, but at least for me communicates his desire to get this thing over with. (See 1:35.) That said, even if he doesn't exhibit a ton of emotion in a public setting like that, he did a great job explaining his mindset under pressure: "I just kinda kept reminding myself, no matter how I felt or how nervous I was, there was nothing really stopping me from hitting great shots." His admission that he had lost his joy in the game, but found it anew, was also deeper than you usually get in these interviews. And then, when he talked about being a good husband and father, he communicated his process well and without skirting the issue.
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5. Body Work
I mean, the man didn't even allow himself a little fist pump or a look up to the sky after his putt went down before he picked the ball up. It could have been a bogey on the seventh hole on Thursday, if we didn't know the context. Next time, he should try doing a cartwheel or hurling his putter into the woods or something.
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Kirk made sure to shout out his wife and kids in his interview with Lewis, and he did so by name. I don’t know if this is fair or right, but I’m going to give him extra credit for his wife’s name, “Tahnee,” which is a really sweet name. (She also happened to write a great post on PGATour.com about their struggles and healing which is worth the read.) His sons are named Sawyer, Foster, and Wilder, which might be the most southern thing I’ve ever heard, and you gotta love it. They will either be bass fishermen or novelists.
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Really not very awkward! And you would think Kirk had some real awkward potential. If I'm nitpicking, he does an interesting sideways/forward lean at 0:29 when he shakes hands with Xander Schauffele, but that's really getting the microscope out. By and large, even his hugs with his caddie were more fun than awkward. He has a kind of quiet, loping energy that ends up looking much cooler than you thought it would. Keep in mind, since we love some hardcore awkwardness here at the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale, you get punished for being smooth.
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It's hilarious that Dan Hicks led with "the stage is clear for Chris Kirk," only for Kirk to refuse to ham it up in any way, shape or form.
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This is already covered a bit, but Kirk can't help but have some great insight considering all that he's been through, and he did a great job conveying that to Lewis in a format that doesn't really allow for a ton of depth. Along with everything mentioned above, I enjoyed the almost zen koan-like response when Lewis asked where he wanted his game to go in 2024: "Wherever it takes me."
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10. Opponent Interaction
I want you all to rewatch the sequence from 0:20 to 0:33, when in just 13 seconds, Kirk takes a masterful tour of acknowledging his competitors. What's truly jaw-dropping here is that each person gets a slightly different greeting, and Kirk manages it all without missing a beat. First, Bhatia gets the soul shake with a very slight hug. Next, Schauffele's caddie gets a handshake with a few vigorous pumps. Then, Bhatia's caddie gets the rare but potent "still handshake," where the hands lock and just freeze in place. Finally, Schauffele himself gets the bro hug with a couple of subtle shakes, and pulled in for the slow hug. It's all over and done almost before you can blink, and Kirk never breaks stride. What panache! We may never see the like of this again; it's breathtaking.
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In a true maverick move, Kirk puts his hat back on before he receives the lei at 0:37, which is always a risky endeavor. But with a pinpoint duck of the head, working in tandem with the PGA Tour communications official Rachel Noble (who navigates the extra obstruction like a true pro), they get the lei on without incident. These are two stars, making the impossible look easy.
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Overall Score: 54.6
Final Analysis: Kirk made a strong late surge in the last three categories, but was hampered by his relatively tame reaction. Whether you love it or hate it, the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale rewards some showmanship, and Kirk isn't one to let loose. He suffered for it, but in the end came out with some real highlights, like shaking hands with his opponents and ducking to get the lei on over his hat, that he'll remember for the rest of his life.
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A sigh of relief for Kirk as he just barely avoids the worst score in C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale history. You know Tom Kim thought he'd be out of the basement here, until that impressive closing stretch from Kirk.