CHARLOTTE – It was a strange Tuesday for Chris Kirk. He began the morning at home in Athens, Ga., eating breakfast with his two young sons, Sawyer and Foster. He left the house in shorts, and less than four hours later he was at Quail Hollow Club, beginning preparations for the 99th PGA Championship.
Kirk, 32, had been an alternate for Quail Hollow, but got into the field when his friend, Brandt Snedeker, withdrew with an injured sternum. Kirk, who played in last week’s Barracuda Championship in Nevada, hadn’t talked to Snedeker last week, but he’d spoken to him extensively the previous week in Canada, and he knew Snedeker was hurting and likely doubtful to play this week.
“So I knew there was a good chance I was going to get in,” Kirk said Tuesday upon arriving at Quail Hollow to register. “It’s hard. Brandt is a good friend of mine, and I hope he can get back going again. With my injury a few years ago, I know how much it sucks to miss these big tournaments in the summer. I definitely hate it for him.”
Kirk broke a bone in his right hand two summers ago, and was out for 10 weeks, during which he missed the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He came back later that fall in time to earn a key point for the U.S. team in a thrilling Presidents Cup victory in South Korea.
Kirk was on a hot run last fall – a T-10 to end his playoffs at BMW, then top-10 finishes in three of his first four starts in 2016-17. But soon he cooled considerably. In 21 starts dating to the RSM Classic at Sea Island in November, he missed 10 cuts and finished inside the top 20 only twice. He ranks 162nd in strokes gained: off the tee and 124th in strokes gained: putting. Once inside the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking, climbing as high as 16th shortly after winning Colonial two years ago, the four-time PGA Tour winner has slipped to 132nd.
It’s been a struggle.
Kirk did come away from his 18th-place showing last week at the Barracuda having built up a little bit of confidence. He also finds comfort in knowing that late-minute entries at the year’s final major have produced some magic in the past. John Daly famously won the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick having started the week as the ninth alternate.
“Hopefully I can keep that going,” Kirk said with a smile.
“Obviously, I’ve struggled this year, but it was nice to play some decent golf last week in Reno. Hopefully I can build on that a little bit and get something going.”
Kirk missed the cut in his last two PGA starts, but hopes he’s around for the entire week at Quail. There is a catch, however. His wife, Tahnee, is pregnant with the couple’s third child (the Kirks’ third boy), and she has a C-section scheduled for Monday in Athens.
“Hopefully, she’ll be able to hang on,” Kirk said. He laughed. “Who knows? I might be withdrawing, too.”