McGladrey winner Kirk talks power

Chris Kirk's swing generates a natural, powerful draw.

Chris Kirk's swing generates a natural, powerful draw.

Should Chris Kirk’s playing career on the PGA Tour ever fizzle, the third-year Tour pro might have a future as a trick-shot artist. At a Callaway X-Bomb exhibition in March, Kirk borrowed long-driving champion Jamie Sadlowski’s 50-inch Callaway driver and blasted a ball off the top of a water bottle.

It happened like this: Fellow Callaway ambassador James Hahn poked a hole in said water bottle, teed one up and dared Kirk to give it a rip.

“So the ball is like a foot off the ground and I really thought I might top it,” Kirk recalled. “I just wanted to make contact and I flushed it with a nice draw.”

Kirk smoked it nearly 340 yards, as if there were ever a doubt.

Then again, it’s unlikely that Kirk, the University of Georgia graduate who won the 2007 Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top college golfer, will ever have to resort to performing trick shots, especially since his career is just beginning to soar.

Kirk won the McGladrey Classic last week in the "wraparound" portion of the PGA Tour's 2013-14 schedule to earn his third straight million-dollar season. In 2012, he earned $1,197,562 – and had topped that in 2013 before getting to May, thanks in large part to a runner-up finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and a T-5 at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He finished the 2013 season with $1,728,616.

It’s all a far cry from 2009, when he finished 178th on the Web.com Tour money list and earned only $13,606. That’s when Kirk turned to instructor Mark Love, brother of Davis Love III, for guidance.

Love quickly realized there was no need to overhaul Kirk’s graceful, fluid swing. But Kirk had become obsessed with his swing plane and positions. He also tried to master a fade to go with his preferred draw ball flight. Pretty soon Kirk didn’t know which way the ball was headed. It was Love who convinced Kirk to stick with his draw and trust his natural talent.

“He let me understand that my swing already was good enough to win on Tour,” Kirk said.

Nowadays, Kirk plays to his strengths and estimates he chooses a draw ball flight on 49 out of every 50 shots.

“I got it in my head that now that I was out on Tour I couldn’t draw the ball into those right pins,” Kirk said. “Yeah, I can. There’s nothing stopping you.”

Under Love’s tutelage, he hasn’t stopped improving, winning twice on the Web.com Tour in 2010 to earn his card and capturing the PGA Tour’s 2011 Viking Classic as a rookie. All Love has prescribed to Kirk are some simple range drills that emphasize impact position.

To correct Kirk’s tendency to move laterally off the ball, Love instructed Kirk to do the “right foot, left toe” drill. Kirk addresses the ball positioned back in his stance near his right foot, then lifts his left leg so that only his left toe is touching the ground. He also drops his left foot slightly farther from the target line. With his weight shifted to his right, the drill emphasizes balance and loading on his left leg.

“You can’t move laterally to the left or else you will lose your balance,” Love said. “You also can’t release early or you’ll be pulled forward.”

Another drill that has become part of Kirk’s practice routine is called “left arm only,” which is designed to help Kirk keep the club in front of him and prevents an early release. To sync his body and arms, he hits balls while holding the club with just his left hand.

“You can’t be flipping too much or you won’t make solid contact,” Love said.

An improved body turn is one reason why Kirk is considered sneaky long.

“When he’s swinging it well and letting the club release, he can make it go a long way,” Love said.

Nothing, however, may carry Kirk farther than his self-belief. Love likes to tell about the time he caddied for Kirk at the 2012 RBC Heritage. Harbour Town Golf Links’ fifth hole is a dogleg-left par 5 with out of bounds right and overhanging trees. In the first round, Kirk drove it into the left fairway bunker. He surveyed the situation and elected to launch a 5-wood over the bunker’s lip. Kirk pulled off the risky shot, but that didn’t stop Love from using the situation as a teachable moment.

“After the round, we were hitting balls and I asked him, ‘How many times are you going to hit that in a spot where you make 4?’ ” Love said. “If you lay it up to 100 yards, you’re going to make birdie as many or more times as you’re going to if you hit that 5-wood. The difference is, you take the big numbers out of play.’ ”

Kirk nodded that he understood the lesson Love had bestowed. Lo and behold, the next day Kirk drove into the same bunker.

“We’re standing there and he looks at me and he says, ‘I like the lie a little better today,’ ” Love said. “So he pulls 5-wood out and hits it again. He pretty much thinks he can pull off anything he tries – and most of the time he’s right.”

So far, that has proved to be Kirk’s best trick of all.

Reprinted from a special advertising section in Golfweek magazine.

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