Chris Kirk was making his way through the crowd as he greeted his family and walking toward the scoring area. At that point, he was still unaware he had won the tournament. But then, Kirk saw his caddie Bill Harke celebrating in the hallway, and Jack Graham, CEO of Deutsche Bank, was shaking his hand congratulating him.
Kirk knew he had a one-shot lead over Billy Horschel, who had been in the fairway on 18 when he strolled off the green after missing his birdie putt. What Kirk didn’t know yet was that Horschel had chunked a six-iron into the hazard guarding the 18th green at TPC Boston, which led to a bogey, 6, and ultimately, a two-shot victory for Kirk at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the most significant win of his career.
“I’m still just in such shock that I actually won this tournament,” said Kirk in his post-round presser. “It’s going to take me a little while to figure that out. Obviously golf is a game where once you accomplish something you want to go to the next level, go to the next level, go to the next level.
“So this is definitely the biggest win of my career against the strongest field under the biggest spotlight. So I’m very proud of that and I’m very excited that I was able to accomplish this. And so now I’ll just keep plugging away and work really hard and try to take another step up.”
Previously, Kirk won the 2011 Viking Classic during his rookie year and he also captured the McGladrey Classic earlier in the wraparound season back in November.
Meanwhile, Horschel had a much different outcome in mind.
“I really thought when Chris missed his birdie, I thought I was going to hit it on the green,” said Horschel, who moved from no. 82 to no. 9 in the FedExCup standings with his tied for second finish. “I thought I was going to make the putt and make the eagle and win it out right. But just wasn’t my day, I guess. Obviously to hit that bad a shot…”
After Kirk opened with a two-over 73, he thought he was probably out of the tournament. In fact, he didn’t even hit balls — which is something he’d normally do after a round like that.
“This is incredibly unexpected for me, to be honest with you,” said Kirk, who shot a steady five-under 66 on his way to the winner’s circle. “I’ve had a great year, but I really haven’t played my best golf over the last month or so, and struggling with my iron game a little bit. I think like last week I hit about eight greens in regulation every day at the Barclays, and struggled again the first round here, shot 2-over.
“And to be honest with you, this is going to sound ridiculous now, but usually I would have gone — after playing a poor round, I would have gone to hit some balls and worked on something. But I just told my caddie, I said this isn’t any fun. This is no fun, I don’t feel like going to hit balls, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
From there, something changed or clicked in Kirk’s game and he went on to fire rounds of 66, 64, and 66.
Kirk, who played alongside Rory McIlroy the past two days, upstaged the world no. 1, despite being outdriven by over 60 yards at times. However, Kirk admitted that being paired with McIlroy actually helped him.
“To be honest with you, I think it probably helped me play better,” he said. “Being in the group with him and watching him play so great yesterday and he was a little bit up and down today, but still hit some great runs and some great shots. And just the huge crowds that go along with that, it’s really just kind of heightens your focus a little bit.
“That’s something that I do struggle with every now and then, really getting myself into it and getting focused, playing how many tournaments we play every year, every single shot, it’s hard to get to that extreme level of focus where you don’t even see anything around you or hear anything. And it was a lot easier to get into that zone, I guess, we would call it, the last few days.”
Kirk played incredibly steady golf and seemed unflappable even when he hit some shots offline, responding with a birdie or important momentum par putt. But you could tell it was his week. Off the tee on no. 13, he drop-kicked his drive and it hit the left side of the fairway and kicked right, keeping him in the short grass and set him up for an easy shot into the green that led to a 22-footer for birdie.
On the 14th, he pushed his driver right into the rough. He caught a flier lie, but the ball landed perfectly on the front of the green and rolled to about 18 feet. The most important shot happened on no. 15. After missing the green with just a wedge, Kirk was faced with a tough bunker shot to a tucked right pin. He hit it out to about 15 feet and drained the par-saving putt, like there was never a doubt it was headed for the hole.
“Looking back on it my par save on 15 will probably be the biggest one,” said Kirk when asked which shot stood out to him most. “My birdie putt on 13 definitely kind of got me going, got me a little bit feeling like I could do it.
“And then to hit a horrible wedge shot on 15 was obviously very disappointing. And ended up in a spot where — I hit a pretty good bunker shot, it was just in a bad spot, I couldn’t get any closer than that. To pour that one right in the middle kept my momentum going, for sure.”
On no. 18, Kirk, an accurate hitter off the tee, pulled out his driver. There was never a doubt to lay up with a metal wood.
“Never a question of hitting driver on 18 because the way I see that ball, obviously I would have to hit driver where I hit it yesterday, the fairway is about five yards wide with a 6-iron in,” he said. “With how treacherous that green is and how bad it is to be over that preen, if I hit 3-wood I’m going to have a 3-iron in off a downslope. And I’d rather layup than have that. I figure it’s worth taking a chance off the tee. If you hit a great drive you’ve got a middle iron in, if not you’ll layup and have a wedge in.”
Kirk made things interesting by pulling his drive left off the tee. Then, he hit a wedge to the rough guarding the bunker in the middle of the fairway — not an ideal place to be. But it was no big deal for Kirk, who wedged it to nine feet. Even though he missed the putt for birdie, he tapped in for par and won with ease.
Now, the question is, will Kirk’s victory be enough to warrant a captain’s pick from Tom Watson on the American Ryder Cup team? Kirk, who was still processing the victory during his press conference, knows he’s now in the conversation for one of Watson’s three wildcard selections, which will be announced Tuesday evening in NYC. However, he’s not holding his breath.
“I certainly don’t feel entitled or feel like I’m a shoe-in to get a pick,” he said. “I’m obviously really put myself into consideration and it’s something that I would love to do. But like I’ve said before, I mean the nine guys that made it are automatic picks, those are the guys on the team. The other three, if you get in, it’s a bonus.”
Kirk couldn’t sound less excited, especially compared to say, someone like, Keegan Bradley, but it’s probably because he doesn’t know what he’s missing yet.
“I probably don’t put as much importance on it as a lot of guys do, maybe,” he admitted. “And maybe that’s — Keegan Bradley is a good friend of mine and I’ve talked to him about this a good bit. And he said wait until you play on one, and you’ll feel different about it.
“Obviously I see it as a huge honor to play on that team. And I would absolutely love to do it, but I’m not going to really base how happy I am with how I’m playing or how my year has gone on whether I make the team or not. Obviously I would love to do it. I would love to maybe be making a bigger deal out of it than I am, but that’s just honestly how I feel.”
Kirk, who finished 14th in the points standings, definitely has a shot, but as of his press conference, he hadn’t heard from Captain Watson since playing in a practice round with him at Hoylake for the Open Championship.
He’s likely getting a phone call from Watson tonight, whether he makes the team or not. He’s never felt nervous waiting for a call and that doesn’t appear to change even after today’s events.
“I wish that I was a little bit more excited or freaking out about it, but, you know, I mean I don’t really know what else to say,” said Kirk. “I’d love to do it, but, I don’t know, I’m not worried. It’s not like there’s anything that I can do to sway it one way or another. I can’t say, hey, Tom, please, please pick me now. I don’t think that’s going to change his mind a whole lot. I think he’s probably got a pretty good idea of what he wants to do regardless of what I want to do.”
Well, he could be a *little* more enthusiastic…