Robert Garrigus: From Forest Grove to the PGA Tour
Dreams do come true.
But since growing up in Banks, attending Forest Grove High School, and struggling with a drug and alcohol problem early in his professional career, Robert Garrigus has played 342 events on the PGA Tour — and made north of $14 million doing it.
The 22-year golf journeyman reflected on his life and career upon his return to western Washington County for last week's Winco Portland Open. He couldn't be happier, he said.
"I just love Pumpkin Ridge," Garrigus said. "Growing up in Banks, living in Forest Grove, there are just so many cool things going on around this event for me. Sure, I'm not on the PGA Tour and I'm not in the playoffs, but to me it's just the same. The fact that I'm coming back to Portland and Pumpkin Ridge is probably the coolest thing that could happen to me right now."
Ultimately — despite his enthusiasm for the event — it didn't work out for Garrigus, who missed the cut following rounds of 68 and 75. But that didn't matter, he said. He was excited to be back where his golfing life began more than 25 years ago.
"I really wanted to play this event," Garrigus said prior to the tournament's first round and after he ascended into the field from his third alternate position. "It didn't look good early in the week, but when I got in I couldn't have been more excited. I grew up out here, worked at Pumpkin Ridge and I love the course, so I'm just really happy to be playing."
Garrigus — who was born in Nampa, Idaho — said he first played the game as a young kid, but it wasn't until he began working both at Forest Hills Golf Course in Cornelius and Pumpkin Ridge as a freshman in high school that he got the bug. From there he spent two years at Forest Grove High School, his junior year at Centennial High School in Gresham and his final year at Crescent Valley High School, where he and his teammates won the 1995 Oregon State High School Golf Team Championship at Trysting Tree Golf Course in Corvallis. Throughout his prep career he gained confidence and steadily improved, but it wasn't until he won the OGA Junior Championship at Heron Lakes that he started to believe he really had something that could take him places in the game.
"My mom always said I was going to be better than everyone else, but moms are supposed to say that," he said. "But after winning that event, I started believing."
From there he decided to attend Scottsdale Community College, where he won 14 events in just his two semesters at the Arizona school. But in addition to his success on the course, he also excelled on the party scene, where he began drinking and smoking marijuana on a daily basis. That carried over into the professional ranks where, after a year on the mini-tours, the 23-year-old took those same habits to the Buy.com Tour (now Korn Ferry tour) in 2000, where he played eight events, missing the cut in all of them.
"I had absolutely no idea what I was doing," Garrigus said. "I was hitting it so far, but had no idea how to control it. The technology was getting better, drivers were going further and I was flying it 350 yards, but couldn't control it."
Nor could he control the extra-curriculars.
In 2002, he played his way back on to the Buy.com Tour and made eight cuts in 21 events, earning $15,357. But the drugs and alcohol were taking their toll, and the fledgling golf pro knew he was at a crossroads with his life as a touring professional.
"I was wasting my talent," he said.
So he did something about it. Garrigus checked himself into a 45-day rehab facility called Calvary Ranch just outside San Diego, where he got clean and connected with religion — which he said changed his life forever.
"I turned my life over to the Lord and it was a big deal," Garrigus said. "It was the biggest thing I'd done to that point in my life. When I did that I knew I had an opportunity to be the best that I could be."
When he returned to the course there were obvious questions: Could he still play, and more importantly, could he play sober, something he'd failed to even try in almost four years?
"I thought that maybe I couldn't do it, for about a minute," he said. "But I just trusted it."
A day after his return from Calvary Ranch and to the game he loved, he played in a U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier at Phoenix Country Club. While he didn't qualify, he was able to come to the realization that he could in fact play without the vices he'd leaned so hard on over the past handful of years — and he couldn't have felt better about his prospects going forward.
"I hadn't touched a club in 45 days and shot 70 completely sober, and it felt amazing," Garrigus said. "I told myself, 'I'm going to be all right.'"
And he was. From there he earned his way back on the now Nationwide Tour, and after relative success — and a lot of practice — earned his PGA Tour card in 2006.
"When I got my Tour card, it was a dream come true," he said. "There was nothing in my life at that time more important to me. I'd worked my whole life to play on the PGA Tour. I felt I'd always get there, but when I got it, it was a year of bliss."
Garrigus made more than half his cuts that year and earned $537,595, but he was again forced back to the PGA Tour Qualifying School, where he finished second and set himself up for another year on tour. Over the next three years, he earned more than $2 million, but he was also teetering between the PGA and its second-tier developmental tour.
In 2010, though, he got his big chance.
Standing on the 18th tee during the final round of the 2010 St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Garrigus had a three-shot lead and was on the verge of his inaugural PGA Tour victory. Without a clear understanding by both himself and his caddy, Mark West, about how to attack the final hole that seemingly had water everywhere, Garrigus hit his tee shot into the drink, made a triple bogey and eventually lost a three-man playoff to England's Lee Westwood.
Afterward, Garrigus put on a happy face, but with time to reflect in the aftermath of his titanic meltdown, the 31-year-old was faced with the reality that he'd blown what might have been his best and only opportunity to win on the PGA Tour.
"Neither of us had ever been there before, and I don't like to ever blame things on anyone but myself. But if I would've had a caddy who knew what he was doing and what to say in that moment, I never would've lost that tournament," Garrigus said. "Of all the times I finished second, that one hurt the most, because I knew I should've won by a handful of shots based on how I was playing that week."
Despite the disappointment, he kept West on, and a few months later, they both saw redemption.
Garrigus again entered the final hole of a tournament, the Children's Miracle Network Classic in Florida, with a three-shot lead. But this time, they finished the deal with a par, culminating with Garrigus' first and only win on tour.
"On 18, I looked at him and said, 'Well, we know what not to do,' and we both had a chuckle," Garrigus recalled.
Since that event, there have been mostly highs, with a few recent lows.
Garrigus and his wife Ami, whom he met on a blind date shortly following his stint in rehab, have two boys, R.J., 8, and Andrew, 6, who this week started first and third grade.
Garrigus finished third at the 2011 U.S. Open, won by Rory McIlroy; has made more than $1 million in six different years on the PGA Tour, including $3,206,530 in 2012, when he had eight top-10 and four second-place finishes; and he nearly made the Ryder Cup team in 2012, something he said would've been a dream come true.
"I was close," he said. "I was right there in points and Davis Love (the team captain) called me, but he ended up picking a bunch of older guys and we lost. I felt I could've helped the team, but it was an honor to be considered."
Earlier this season, a year in which Garrigus had only partial status on the tour, he was suspended for three months by the PGA Tour for violating its drug policy. He quickly debunked any suggestion of a relapse, saying he'd been taking CBD oil mixed with a finite level of THC to help with knee and back pain. He took his punishment, but in the wake of the incident, he has been outspoken about the tour's need to revisit their policy as a result of the benefits of natural healers the likes of marijuana and hemp products.
"It helped me sleep, helped me with my knee and back, and I don't like taking Advil or Aleve, so I felt a natural way would be better," Garrigus said. "But I understand the tour is in a tough spot as long as it remains federally illegal."
Now, at 41, and his PGA Tour status again back in limbo, how does Garrigus see the next handful of years playing out? He hopes to regain full status on the PGA Tour for next season, and "Lord willing," play his way up to the Champions Tour, the PGA Tour's over-50 circuit, where he can continue doing what he feels he's always been meant to do — play golf.
"I feel like I have a lot of life left in the tank," he said. "I'm hitting it so good and can still hit it out there with the kids. I think I can still play the next five years and I want to play the Champions if it's still there. This is my life and this is what I do, and this is what I was meant to do."
As he looks back, is Garrigus surprised at how it's all played out? Yes and no.
He always thought he'd play the tour, he said, but when it came to his wife and kids, "I'd have laughed it you told me that as a kid." Yet, as happy as it all makes him now, what makes him equally happy is what he's been able to give back in the wake of his sobriety.
"I have got at least a thousand letters about people I've helped with their sobriety," he said. "Maybe that's what God put me here for. I think there are so many things people don't understand in this world, but to have a voice and be an ambassador is a great thing."
And how would he sum it all up?
"I know where I came from and have so much to be thankful for," Garrigus said. "It's just amazing to think where it started and where I am now."
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