HONOLULU (AP) — Camilo Villegas was laughing about the time he was disqualified from Kapalua 13 years ago on his birthday. That was long before he was married, had his first child and then lost his daughter to brain cancer. He has been through a lot.
So has Chris Kirk, even if he doesn't show it.
That was one reason Kirk wanted to go public with his alcoholism when he just as easily could have taken the steps in private. He wanted to look himself in the mirror each morning and be free, knowing there was nothing to hide. Now he has two PGA Tour victories in the last year.
He was given the tour's “Courage Award” during the season finale last November at Sea Island.
Grayson Murray was at Sea Island that day and could appreciate the effects of relying too much on the drink. It's what gave him bravado in public and made him feel like a failure in private, and there were times he hated golf and thought even less of himself.
“Chris is an inspiration,” he said Saturday at the Sony Open.
Murray won the next day, a victory that makes him exempt through 2026 (whatever golf looks like by then) and gets him into the Masters for the first time, along with starts in the next seven $20 million tournaments. That sounded merely like gravy.
“It's a lot for my career,” he said. “I knew today was not going to change my life.”
Throw in two other winners — Erik van Rooyen in Mexico and Ludvig Aberg at Sea Island — and the last five tournaments have given golf some good moments even if the source of the feeling is nothing alike.
Two winners on the road back from alcoholism.
Another coping with the loss of a child while facing the prospects of not ever making it back to the big leagues in golf.
One was distraught over losing his best friend and college roommate to cancer far too soon. Van Rooyen's job was on the line in Mexico last November and all he could think about was seeing his friend before it was too late. He shot 28 on the back nine to win and flew straight to Minnesota. Jon Trasamar died six day later at age 33.
And even Aberg, that rare blend of extraordinary talent and remarkable humility, was a reminder that golf's next star is always around the corner.
The last three months have provided something for everyone.
This is the lifeblood of golf, not any one player or even small fields limited to the stars. It's the traits the game requires and celebrates — resilience, trust, patience (even in the case of Aberg, who in six months as a pro won on the European tour, the PGA Tour and in the Ryder Cup).
It's refreshing at a time when money seems to be all that matters.
How much did they get for signing? How much are they playing for this week? How much do billionaires want to invest in the tour? How much are the executives being paid?
It can seem like Monopoly money at times. But there is sport and there is life, and the latter can be far more fascinating.
Kirk doesn't mind that any success on the golf course — such as his win at Kapalua to start the year — will include mention of his struggles with alcohol and depression that caused him to walk away during the summer of 2019. He wants that.
“I hope it stays with me forever,” he said. "It’s a huge part of my life still now. Definitely the best thing that I’ve ever done in my life is to get sober. I don't feel like it’s taking away from anything that I’m accomplishing. It’s 100 percent the reason why I’m able to do what I do. I’ve said that a lot, but my PGA Tour career would have been over a while ago had I not gotten sober.
“So yeah,” he said, “I’m fine with that staying with me until the day I die.”
Villegas could have just as easily won in Mexico instead of van Rooyen.
Villegas recalls chatting with the South African at the start of the final round about his Minnesota roommate. Few others could appreciate the emotions. “I know what he's going through. I saw it with my daughter,” Villegas said.
Mia Villegas died in July 2020 — two months short of her second birthday — from tumors on her brain and spine. That led to “Mia's Miracle,” a foundation Villegas and his wife started to provide children and families facing critical health issues with resources and support.
Van Rooyen shot 63 that day in Mexico to win by two.
“He said it — playing for a different reason other than just a trophy, and it was his time,” Villegas said. “When you get beat with a 28 on the back nine, there's no regrets. I was happy for him. I sent him a little text and I said, ‘Just please give your buddy a big hug for me and enjoy the time with him.’”
A week later in Bermuda, Villegas won for the first time in more than nine years.
He looked briefly to the sky and later said: "This game has given me so many great things, and in the process, it kicks your butt. Life has given me so many great things and in the process it kicks your butt, too.”
The tour now leaves Hawaii for the California desert and as strong a field as The American Express has ever had. The stars move the needle. It's like that in every sport.
It doesn't mean there isn't room for great stories at the rest of the tournaments.
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf