In case you were watching football last week and didn’t catch the prime time golf, you’re forgiven. I too was rooting hard for Nick Chubb and the Browns, though I was complaining why Mecole Hardman didn’t get more touches. Then I concentrated more on the golf because DaveTheDawg told me the forecast for New Orleans did not include a chance of meteors.
Did a former Georgia Bulldog win the Sony Open in Hawaii? No, but one did come away with perhaps something more important and a story that is definitely getting just as many headlines.
Chris Kirk was part of the 2005 University of Georgia Men’s Golf Team that brought home a national championship (along with current Tour winners Kevin Kisner and Brendon Todd). He had some early success in his pro career, winning four times between 2011-2015. The next three years were also productive, as he averaged over $1.5 million in earnings. But in mid-2019, Kirk suddenly stepped away from professional golf and made the statement that he was going to take time to deal with substance abuse and depression.
After losing his full-time status on the PGA Tour, Kirk used a “major medical” extension which allows a player a small number of tournament entries to earn a certain amount of points. If they do, they regain status; if they do not, they must try to earn status another way (i.e. mini-tours). So Kirk registered to use his extension this fall and entered into many of the early season tournaments.
It wasn’t looking so good as he missed the cut in his first, and only had around 70 points after five events (and needed about 140 more). He comes to the Sony Open needing a top 3 finish that week or start over. Against 144 of some of the best golfers on the planet, and you need to beat 140 of them or technically lose your job.
The Sony Open was playing extremely easy and guys were shooting ridiculous scores all over the place. Kirk started Sunday’s final round 4 strokes back. Bogeys on #1 and #3 looked to doom his chances, but Kirk didn’t get rattled and carded 6 birdies in 9 holes to get back into contention. With all that, he came to the 72nd hole needing at least a birdie to gain the necessary points to keep playing the PGA Tour. He short-sided his approach to the par 5 18th and left himself a tricky pitch out of the Bermuda grass with only a few feet of green to work with. But one perfectly clipped wedge later, and Kirk has a tap in 4. He secures a tie for 2nd place, a fat check for $587,400, and his full-time membership on the PGA Tour. Good on ya, Chris. Good on ya.
As for the other Bulldogs, every one of them made the cut.
Brian Harman finished 9 under par, T56.
Brendon Todd was 11 under, T41
Harris English and Kevin Kisner tied for 32nd at 12 under.
Sepp Straka and Hudson Swafford tied for 25th at 14 under.
Keith Mitchell got to 16 under par and a T14.
Russell Henley scored 17 under and T11.
Chris Kirk shot 4 rounds of 65 (65-65-65-65) for 20 under par and T2.
Now onto this week’s event...
Tournament: The American Express, January 21-24, 2021
Course(s): Stadium Course at PGA West: 7,113 yards, par 72; Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, 7,152 yards, par 72. These are all in the Coachella Valley outside Palm Springs and Palm Desert, California
Purse: $6,700,000 with the winner receiving $1,206,000
Defending Champ: Andrew Landry. The Arkansas Razorback survived some late bogeys on the final nine and birdied the last two holes to earn the victory. This is a birdie-fest, so holding onto a lead is always a challenge, considering anyone else can get on a heater and pass you. UGA’s Sepp Straka was one of those last year, but ended up T4.
Fun Fact: This was, until this year, a pro-am, pairing a competing Tour pro with an amateur (and usually a celebrity). In the 1995 edition, the tournament paired sitting President Bill Clinton with George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Bob Hope (and pro Scott Hoch).
TV Times: Golf Channel each day (Thurs-Sun) 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm ET.
‘Dawgs in the Field: 5. Hudson Swafford (former champion), Sepp Straka, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, and Brian Harman.
As mentioned above, this used to have a celebrity pro-am format. It is actually the nth iteration of the Bob Hope Celebrity Desert Classic. If you don’t know who Bob Hope is, and his love of golf, you’re young, I’m old, and Google is a wonderful resource.
In actuality, they used to play 5 rounds instead of just 4 - the last one was for the pros only. And they played 3 courses. But with COVID-19 protocols, there will be no spectators and it didn’t seem wise to have to test and isolate amateurs as well, so they scrapped the pro-am format and just have a typical PGA Tour setup: 2 days alternating courses, with a cut after the 2nd round and finishing on the Stadium Course.
In 2017, UGA’s own Hudson Swafford finally broke through for his first PGA Tour win here, with fellow Bulldog Brian Harman just a couple of shots behind. Swafford and Harman have since won again, and if you’ve been reading, you know the former Classic City Canines are omnipresent in every field and winning a fair share.
These desert courses are usually quite easy, with the winning scores around 20 or 25 under par. I’ve heard it might not be quite as accommodating this year, and they removed a course from the rotation that pros feasted on (La Quinta CC).
Chris Kirk will be playing with full privileges, but after such an emotional week I have no idea how he’ll play. Swafford seems to be coming down of his high of a win last fall and rounding back into shape. Sepp Straka has become very consistent but has yet to reach the winner’s circle. Brian Harman has been quietly packaging together a solid year yet again, though I’m not sure this fits his game. Russell Henley isn’t the bomb-and-gouge modern player, but he is leading the Tour in Strokes Gained - Approach. That means his iron game in on point, and if you can hit it close and roll the rock, and Henley is a very streaky putter, you can make some serious noise. So he’s my pick this week.
Yeah, there will be more NFL football on the telly Sunday, but there will be plenty of golf coverage too. So flip it on over if you want to see former ‘Dawgs spoiling a good walk. And as always...