Kirk looks forward after being overlooked for Ryder Cup
CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Chris Kirk landed in Denver at about 1 p.m. Tuesday, turned on his cellphone and discovered a voicemail message waiting from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson.
America’s fearless captain didn’t tip his hand in his message, so Kirk dialed to learn his fate.
“He was pretty straight to the point,” said Kirk, adding that Watson “just said, ‘Congratulations on your great play, but we’re going to go in another direction.’ He kind of started to explain his reasoning, and I wasn’t rude at all or anything, but if you’re not the one getting picked, you don’t really – the reason doesn’t really matter a whole lot.”
Many thought that Kirk, who had won the Deutsche Bank Championship on Sept. 1 for his second Tour title of the 2013-14 season, had played well enough to earn one of three captain’s picks.
Kirk told Watson, “Hey don’t worry about it. You got to do what you got to do. I just won the biggest tournament of my career. It’s going to take a lot more than this to put me in a bad mood.”
Kirk said he wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t chosen. He accepts that if his game hadn’t cooled during the summer, he likely would’ve qualified on points in the top 9. He was a long shot, at best, until he scorched TPC Boston in 66-64-66 over the final three rounds. But he certainly was on Watson’s radar: The two played a practice round together in July at the Open Championship.
“If I hadn’t won the (Deutsche Bank Championship), we wouldn’t even be talking about this,” Kirk said. “So there’s no point in me being disappointed at all.”
Kirk said he watched the replay of the final round of his victory at TPC Boston on television and heard an announcer say he didn’t want to be chosen for the U.S. side. Kirk wanted to dispel that notion. Yes, he will be attending the football game between his alma mater, Georgia, and Tennessee during the second day of matches at the Ryder Cup. But his tweet, that he will have “93,000 of my closest friends at Sanford Stadium to keep me company if I get sad about not being at the Ryder Cup,” was meant simply as good humor.
“I hope that I haven’t sort of sent the wrong message,” Kirk said. “I would love nothing more than to play on the Ryder Cup. But maybe I don’t live and die by it like some guys do.”
One of Watson’s picks with a fiery attitude, Keegan Bradley, predicted Kirk will become a mainstay of the American squad in the future.
“He could be on the next five,” Bradley said. “America needs Chris Kirk in the future because he’s a tough competitor.”
A confident battler, yes, but one who is as laid back as a chaise lounge. Kirk shows about as much emotion on the course as Jason Dufner. But Kirk noted that at TPC Boston, he fist-pumped twice on the way to victory.
“New personal record for me,” he said.
Coming back to the BMW Championship in the driver’s seat atop the FedEx Cup points race is symbolic of the progress Kirk has made in his game. A year ago, he began working with instructor Scott Hamilton when the BMW was held at Conway Farms. Why Hamilton? Kirk roomed with HP Byron Nelson Championship winner Brendon Todd at Georgia, and Todd struggled to find the fairway off the tee until he started working with Hamilton.
“Suddenly, Brendon’s piping it down the middle every time we play. It was pretty easy to want to go see Scott,” Kirk said.
Kirk, who relied on a draw, has made some adjustments to his setup and said he doesn’t have to “flick it with my hands” to manipulate the clubface to a square position anymore. His driving accuracy, which ranked No. 161 in 2011 (56.5 percent), has improved to 67th this season (63.1 percent).
“Now I can just rip it,” he said. “I feel like now when I’m under pressure, I can hit good shots.”
The changes clicked immediately. Kirk won the McGladrey Classic a month after Hamilton started whispering advice into Kirk’s ear. His results were nearly good enough to make the Ryder Cup. If Bradley is right, Kirk will have the honor to represent his country soon enough.
“I’m just really, really excited that I won the biggest tournament of my career,” Kirk said.