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The Reclamation Of Robert Garrigus

Once mired in a world of drugs, this long-hitting pro is clean and at peace with himself today. What a long, strange trip it's been

July 4, 2011

Rotten chicken or fresh marijuana?

A week removed from 45 days in drug rehabilitation, Robert Garrigus lingered in his darkened kitchen to ponder the choice. He was tired, hungry and irritated, having had to break into his own house in Scottsdale only to find the electricity shut off and the dwelling stiflingly hot. His plans were in tatters. He had intended to retrieve his golf clubs, which he hadn't touched for seven weeks, and then go pound balls at a lighted driving range into the wee hours before playing in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier the following morning.

His roommate was nowhere to be found. Garrigus had left money for him to take care of the house and pay the bills. The man used it for recreational drugs and gambling, and he skipped town just before Garrigus returned -- and before bookies to whom he owed $2,500 found him. He left the dope, and a note for Garrigus. It read: "Hope rehab was great. Have fun."

"Oh yeah, there were plenty of guys on the Nationwide Tour who smoked in the middle of the round...We always talked about it. You could go in the Porta John and take your drags."

Garrigus wears a bemused smile as he recounts this tale of temptation. He smiles and laughs for much of an hour-long interview in the players' dining room at Riviera CC, near Los Angeles, following the second round of the Northern Trust Open. The subject matter is delicate and embarrassing, but the 33-year-old Garrigus embraces the opportunity to tell his story of being freed from the shackles of drug and alcohol abuse. "If I can help just one person by sharing what I've gone through, then it's worth it," he says.

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A 45-day stint in drug rehab in 2003 allowed Garrigus to stare down his demons and turn his life around.

There might not be a story worth telling had he made an ill-advised decision that sweltering evening in 2003. Turns out, neither poultry nor pot would keep him from his appointed recovery.

"I stood there for a minute, and then I grabbed the weed and threw it in the garbage. Then I took the refrigerator and threw it out with the chicken, everything. I called the electric company to get them to turn on the power. When I wake up the next morning, I didn't realize until I get to the golf course that my roommate had been using my putter. So I race back to the house at 140 miles per hour, get my putter, race back just in time for my tee time. I have no warm-up, no caddie, and my clubs are on a pull cart. I shoot 70 and miss by two shots. I told myself that wasn't too bad after 45 days without hitting a ball. I knew then I was going to be OK."

Garrigus always has had a game that was better than OK. You might recognize him as the man with the Fisher-Price-size putter. Others know him as one of the obscenely long hitters on the PGA Tour. He might be best remembered for his final-hole collapse at the 2010 St. Jude Classic. Garrigus suffered an acute case of the Van de Veldes and lost a playoff while wearing tan slacks so saturated with sweat from the Memphis heat that it appeared, well, that he'd made a mess of more than just the 72nd hole.

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Garrigus with infant son Robert.

Written off by the sporting cognoscenti -- most famously ESPN's Tony Kornheiser, who said, "I feel terrible for this guy. He may never win" -- Garrigus not only broke through at the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic, but he proved his chops more recently and on a much grander stage by finishing T-3 at last month's U.S. Open at Congressional CC in Bethesda, Md.

Related: Kornheiser inspires Garrigus to win

With rounds of 70-70-68-70, Garrigus joined champion Rory McIlroy in bettering par all four rounds. Only eight men have ever had four subpar rounds in an Open, three without winning: Sam Snead (St. Louis CC, 1947), Curtis Strange (Oakmont, 1994) and Garrigus. As is his wont, Garrigus added his own little touches. His feet were so wet after playing a shot from the water on the sixth hole Sunday, he sprinted to the locker room at the turn to change his socks. He rallied from that water-laden outward 39 with three straight birdies followed by a 25-foot par-save on the last for an inward 31 to tie rookie Kevin Chappell for low American at six-under 278.

Now you'll see more of Garrigus in Grand Slam tournaments. His Open finish guarantees him entry into next month's PGA Championship at Atlanta AC and the first two majors of 2012: the Masters (which will be his first visit to Augusta National GC) and the U.S. Open at Olympic Club.

"Can you imagine me at Augusta? I might shoot 100, but I'm going to bomb it all over the place and have the time of my life," Garrigus mused enthusiastically outside the Congressional clubhouse. "I'm probably the farthest thing from a country-club guy they'll ever see there. Just thinking about it, what I did here, playing in the Masters, it's a validation of everything I've been trying to do with my life these last seven-to-eight years."

Garrigus was so overjoyed that he nearly was in tears, but he was holding up better than his caddie, Brent Henley, who was sobbing in the locker room. Henley had only been working for Garrigus a few weeks after regular caddie Mark (Shoestring) West was sidelined with a torn Achilles, which he suffered starting a motorcycle. Trust us, this will seem normal in the Garrigus universe.

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