HONOLULU – The day after missing a 3-foot putt to lose in a playoff, Robert Garrigus couldn’t eat.
His mind was a mess, his nerves still jangled. He tried to explain his feelings to his family, but the words sounded hollow and he felt no one could truly understand except him. You see, Garrigus grew up in Oregon, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the BCS Championship game that night, which his beloved Ducks wound up losing.
As for the golf?
This is a guy who once feared drugs and drinking might ruin his career, if not his life. He spent 30 days in rehab, where his chores included shoveling horse manure into a wheelbarrow, pushing it up a hill to unload it, and going back down for more. Until last week at Kapalua, the only tournament he ever played without a cut was Q-school.
Yes, it was disappointing to lose that way, but only for a minute.
“Life is too good to complain,” Garrigus said.
It’s not an act. Considering where his life has taken him, it can’t be. If people are just now discovering the honest and refreshing outlook of Garrigus, there’s a reason for that. Until last year, he had not done anything to make many people pay attention to him, except that he hits the ball a mile and uses a 28-inch putter that barely reaches his knees.
“I’ve always had that attitude,” he said. “I’ve lost 133 golf tournaments, and no one really asked me about until Memphis.”
It was at the St. Jude Classic where Garrigus first got noticed, and it was forgettable by most standards. Standing on the 18th tee with a three-shot lead, he hit into the water and into the trees and had to take triple bogey, then lost in a playoff to Lee Westwood.
He blamed it on stupidity, shrugged and said he would do better the next time. And he did, coming from five shots behind in the final round of the final tournament of the year to win at Disney.
And despite his playoff loss to Jonathan Byrd in the Tournament of Champions, the 33-year-old believes he’s in for a big year.
He’ll understand if no one believes him, considering that until last year, Garrigus had kept his card only once by finishing 74th on the money list in 2007. But he reached a point where he thought he should be better than a fringe player, and he set out to prove it.
Garrigus has led the PGA Tour in driving distance the last two years, but his attention shifted to the short game. He spent hours at home working on his wedges, which helped him to win at Disney and gave him a shot at Kapalua.
He should have had the advantage with his length, but he hit a poor chip from the front of the par-5 18th green and had to settle for par. The next hole was No. 1, which had haunted Garrigus all week. He made double bogey Saturday, and a bogey in the final round. Despite having a 9-iron to the green – Byrd was hitting 3-iron – he came up 40 feet short, and three-putted for yet another bogey.
And then he smiled.
“A great display of sportsmanship,” Byrd said. “He’s smiling in the playoff, he was probably smiling when he doubled the first hole yesterday and he was smiling after he missed that putt. My hat’s off to him.”
Garrigus hasn’t always been that way.
A top junior player in Oregon, scholarship offers were limited because of his poor grades. With his mother working two jobs, Garrigus went to Arizona to work at a country club and save money to attend Scottsdale Community College. After two years, UNLV offered him a partial scholarship. Garrigus didn’t think Las Vegas and college was a good fit for him, so he turned pro at 19 and hit the mini-tours.
By then, parties were a big part of his lifestyle. Too much drinking, too much pot.
He checked himself into a 30-day program at Calvary Ranch in 2003, a faith-based recovery program near San Diego. He opened the Bible, attended church three times a week and stayed busy in ways he would not have imagined.
He hauled manure. He dug firewalls. One of his jobs was to rake the gravel driveway after every car came through to keep it orderly. He showed up weighing 150 pounds and gained 25 pounds of muscle in a month.
“It was humbling,” Garrigus said. “But it’s everything I am today. I spent 30 days to change the rest of my life. It was the hardest 30 days of my life, but after that, it’s been a breeze to stay sober. The things I get to do for a living? Rarely will you hear me complain about anything on tour. It’s nothing compared to what it was before.”
Garrigus met his wife, Ami, shortly after getting out of rehab. They were on a blind date with a friend of his from Calvary Ranch, who already was drinking again. Garrigus asked her if they could meet again in better circumstances. They were engaged in four months, married a year later.
The honeymoon was on Maui, of all places. Garrigus recalls going over to the Plantation Course at Kapalua to play golf. Asked what he did on the first hole, he remembers making a birdie.
Going back to Kapalua as a PGA Tour winner, it’s easy to see why a bogey didn’t bother him so much.