Robert Garrigus overcame addictions to become a winner on the PGA Tour. Now he's starting a fund to help caddies who have been less fortunate.

Robert Garrigus

It started as a joke.

On a practice day in Las Vegas last October, Robert Garrigus was doing what most PGA Tour pros do on the range: talking. He and his caddie, Brent Henley, were listening to Kip Henley—Brent's brother, the caddie for Brian Gay—lament a lost evening in one of the local casinos.

"You know what you guys ought to do is start a fund for caddies who need help," Kip Henley said with a laugh. "I could certainly use some serious help right now."

He was kidding, but the suggestion made Garrigus think. The Henley brothers have had enough success since coming to work on tour that they're in good shape financially. Some caddies—Steve Williams, Jim Mackay and Joe LaCava come to mind—are 1-percenters, making more money than many of the players on tour.

But plenty of caddies struggle financially for reasons ranging from not getting a lucrative bag to not being able to afford individual health insurance to, like many people, not doing a good job of taking care of their money.

"There are athletes who make millions who go broke," Garrigus says. "It's not that much of a stretch to think that caddies can have financial troubles. In some cases, sure, they've made mistakes. In others, they just haven't been lucky. I know how lucky I've been. I still can't believe I'm leading the life I'm leading now. I've seen that other side."

He pauses. "A lot of players out here haven't seen the other side, so maybe they have trouble relating to some of these guys. I have no trouble relating to them."

When Kip Henley realized he had Garrigus' attention, the talk became serious.

"There had been two caddies who had died within a month of one another, guys who worked on tour for a long time," Henley says. "Both of them died with nothing—not even enough money for a decent funeral. Unfortunately, even with the money that some of us are lucky enough to make these days, a lot of caddies don't have money. I knew if I could get Robert involved at all in some kind of caddie fund, it would be huge. There's just no one on tour who is more generous."

Many people in golf are familiar with Garrigus' story: His parents were divorced when he was 12. His father, Thomas, who won a silver medal in trapshooting at the 1968 Olympics, was a beer distributor who moved to Colorado Springs to coach the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams while Robert and his mother moved from Idaho to Oregon. Robert had never played golf, but, more or less on orders from his grandfather, Chet Carpenter, he started to play.

"He didn't like the direction he thought I was going in," Garrigus says. "He didn't like the kids I was hanging around with. He thought being at a golf course was a better place to be than where I had been. Fortunately, I had some talent, so I liked it there.

"I played with wooden clubs that had screws coming out of them. My grandfather told me to just go play, swing as hard as I could until I turned 18, and then learn how to putt." He smiles. "It was pretty good advice."

Golf got Garrigus into Scottsdale Community College, but it didn't keep him completely away from trouble. He turned pro in 1997 and went through the lengthy process many players go through to get to the tour: mini-tours, the (then) Tour and, finally, the PGA Tour in 2006.

Along the way, though, there were addiction issues—smoking and drinking, Garrigus says, but no hard drugs—that landed him in rehab for 45 days in 2003.

Not only did Garrigus get sober, he met his wife, Ami, then a college student, on a blind date. "I've seen rock bottom," he says. "I know what it looks like and feels like. I know when you get there, you need help to get back on your feet. That goes for everyone. I was lucky. I can hit a golf ball pretty well. Other guys aren't as lucky."

Garrigus lost his card at the end of 2006 and 2008 but got it back each time by surviving Q school. In 2010, after he had blown a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole in Memphis to lose to Lee Westwood in a playoff, he arrived at Disney 122nd on the money list and in danger of heading to Q school again. But he rallied from five strokes back on Sunday to win—then talked emotionally about his battle with addiction and the pressures of tour life.

By the end of the 2013 "regular season," Garrigus, 36 in November, had won more than $1.1 million, pushing his career total to almost $11 million. His second child was born in the spring. Which is why his conversation with the Henley brothers in Vegas led him to do a lot of thinking.

"I know my kids will have the money they need to go to college," he says. "I know if there's an emergency of any kind, I can take care of it. Why can't we—all of us on tour—try to help make sure that's true for the caddies, too?"

Garrigus' initial idea was a college fund. He told the Henley brothers he was willing to make an initial donation of $250,000 to get the fund up and running. Last March, he was having lunch one day with Tim West, who runs the Monday pro-ams on tour and works with tournaments and sponsors. West, coincidentally, had started working on an emergency fund for caddies, using money from Monday pro-ams. The concept: Ask tournament sponsors to put in $100 for each pro who plays. If 28 pros participate, that would produce $2,800. Garrigus would match the total each week. By the time lunch was over, the two men had decided to work together to get both funds going in 2014.

"I should have known that Robert would be the first one to jump in with both feet on something like that," West says. "He loves hanging out with caddies, and he's more generous with them in general than any player I can think of out here."

That's the general consensus among caddies. "I had no idea about the two funds, but I'm not at all surprised," says Mackay, who has caddied for Phil Mickelson since 1992. "There are weeks in the caddie barn where you walk in on Tuesday and they'll say, 'No need to pay; Garrigus took care of it [the food bill] for everyone.' You go in the next day—same thing. I know there are several weeks a year when he does that—all week. To say that he's gone above and beyond to help caddies is a vast understatement."

Says Garrigus: "I really like the feeling of doing something that I know is helping good people who might need a hand," he says. "If we can get this thing going, we'll all feel really good about it." Garrigus has already talked to a number of players about helping out with both funds—he doesn't want to name anyone who has said they'll contribute because he doesn't want to put public pressure on them—and has talked to the tour about chipping in on scholarships.

"I think we can make this into a big deal," he says. "I think we can raise enough money to make life a lot easier for caddies and their families. Sometimes I don't think all of us on tour appreciate how important they are to us. I'd like to see that change."

West and Garrigus spent the summer and fall doing the paperwork to set up both funds as 501(c)(3) charities. The next step is to put money into both. Garrigus will be the first to make donations. Kip Henley likes to tease his brother about having the best job on tour. Brent doesn't disagree—even though he wishes his boss would play a little more often. "He pays me great," Brent says. "He hears about someone else giving their guy a raise, he gives me a raise. He's like a brother to me. In fact, I've told him if I won the lottery tomorrow I'd still come out and work for him because I enjoy it so much."

The week after Garrigus was eliminated from the FedEx Cup playoffs, Brent Henley was at home when his phone rang. It was his boss. "It just occurred to me that I didn't make you very much money this summer," Garrigus said. "Are you OK? You need me to send you some money?"

Was Henley surprised? "If it had been almost any other guy on tour, yes," he says. "Part of being that good is only thinking about you. But that's not Robert. I wasn't surprised at all. That's just who he is."

December 2013