Robert Garrigus speaks candidly about his battles with drugs and alcohol. The Idaho native is a whiz with firearms, likes to name his putters, and once paid a caddie nearly $7,000 for doing the dishes. All of that sets him apart in the conservative confines of the PGA Tour, and so does his prodigious length. At 34, he is regularly overshadowed by his younger, flashier fellow Tour bombers, J.B. Holmes, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, but as Garrigus himself says, “I’ve been hitting it past them for the last six years.”
This month brings another improbable chapter in the Garrigus saga: a tee time at the Masters, an invitation he earned with his under-theradar tie for third at last summer’s U.S. Open. It will be his first start among the azaleas, a prospect that seemed unthinkable (though not to Garrigus) as he struggled with substance abuse on the Nationwide Tour a decade ago. Garrigus opened up about his rocky road to the Show, his plans for his Augusta debut, and the one and only instance in which pot could be called a performanceenhancing drug.
A decade ago Robert Garrigus was a middling mini-tour pro plagued by drug and alcohol addictions. Today he’s gearing up for his first Masters. The long-bombing, freewheeling 34-year-old reflects on his unlikely rise, his passion for pistols and the problem with the PGA Tour’s drug policy.
How soon after you signed your card at the U.S. Open did you realize what you’d accomplished?
It was after I made the putt on 18. I knew that the putt was going to get me there. It was like a 22-footer for par. That’s why I got so excited. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it, because it was absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was so much fun to play that well under the pressure of the U.S. Open.
Have you visited Augusta National?
No, I told myself I was not going to even step on the grounds until I was in the tournament. Now that I’m in it I’m going to play the weekend before Tampa [in mid-March], and then the Monday and Tuesday before the Masters. And then I’ll play Kiawah [the 2012 PGA Championship site] on Friday and Saturday the week before the Masters.
Where will you stay during Masters week?
We’re going to stay in a house. There are about 40 houses there that are way too expensive and way overpriced, so we’ll probably get one of them. [Laughs] At a U.S. Open you can get a good house for four or five grand for the week; the Masters it’s 10 to 15, but nobody cares because you’re at the Masters. I think the house we got has a ’50s diner downstairs. I’m sure there will be people sleeping down there, because we’re going to have a lot of folks with us.
You’ve spoken openly about your struggles with alcohol and marijuana. “I was used to being intoxicated all the time. On anything,” you told the Syracuse Post- Standard. “It was just a continuous spiral and it just kept getting worse and worse with the usage.’’ Do you ever pause to think how unlikely it is that you’d be in the Masters? How close did you come to bagging golf and changing careers?
I never thought my pro career wasn’t going to work out—ever. After I got through rehab [in 2003] and all that stuff and changed my life and turned my life over to God, I never thought, Woe is me. I always knew I would make it out here.
Last year you were quoted as saying that you and others smoked pot mid-round on the Nationwide Tour in 2002. How was that revelation received by your peers on the PGA Tour?
The players were like, “Whatever.” And the Golf Channel ripped me up for it. But the players I was talking about are selling shoes. Who cares? It was 10 years ago. Get over it. That was how I thought of it. I did what I did, and the guys that I said were doing the same thing, they’re not even on Tour. They’re not even on the Nationwide Tour. I did what I did and I don’t regret it. It was just the way I was. I was trying to tell the story to be a good inspiration, to show that look, I did this, and look where I am now that I stopped and I don’t do it anymore. I haven’t smoked in 10 years, so you can take it however you want. It was funny the way everybody kind of exploded on the Golf Channel.
Every step you took got you to where you are now. So you can’t regret it.
Yeah, I never do.
Tour pro Matt Every made headlines in 2010 when he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana (the charges were later dropped). Earlier this year, at the Sony Open, Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman seemingly caught Every off guard when she asked him about his arrest during a live interview. What did you make of that?
I thought it was kind of a blind side. Usually they ask you [in advance], or they say, “Hey, I’m going to say this.” Rich Lerner asked me every time if he could talk about [my drug problems]. I said, “Yeah, absolutely. It’s a good story.” I thought Kelly kind of slapped Matt across the face a little bit. We’ve all done stuff. There are skeletons in all of our closets. Matt was just in the wrong room at the wrong time. The charges were dropped, but she didn’t say that, which is kind of stupid. People do things. Everybody out here has got something they don’t want people to find out. Unfortunately she got to say it in front of [a large audience], so that was pretty bad.
The Tour is now drug testing because of golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympics. Do you think there are still pro golfers who smoke pot?
Yeah, there are a bunch of [mini-tour] guys who do use. I don’t know if they’re out here [on the PGA Tour]. It’s just one of those things. If you’re in California, it’s damn near legal. I think it’s going to be legal down the road as soon as the government smartens up and taxes it. I don’t use it anymore. I know what it does to me: You get hungry, you get happy, you get tired, and you go to sleep. The only way it’s going to help you on the golf course is if you chuck a Hershey bar in the hole. I’ve got to get to that thing! That’s the only way. It’s not a performance-enhancing drug. They shouldn’t even be testing for it out here. It’s something a lot of people use.
Steve Jobs said he took LSD to broaden his mind. Do you have issues with that?
I think LSD is awful. I can’t imagine even taking a hallucinogen—even pills or cocaine or anything. I never did any of that stuff because I knew I’d get hooked. Good for him. He made billions of dollars, but geez, there’s no way I would endorse that.
You were born in Nampa, Idaho, a suburb of Boise. How long were you there?
We were there four or five years before we moved to Montana, and then we moved to Oregon. I didn’t spend a lot of time there, but when I was 13 or 14 I would go back there every summer and play golf with my grandpa [Chet Carpenter].
Is he still around?
No, he just passed. He was 97. He lasted quite a while. I thank him every day for turning me on to golf because that’s who got me started.
Your dad doesn’t play?
No, my dad [Tom] passed away when he was 59. He didn’t take care of himself, so it was kind of unfortunate to see that. My grandpa kind of got me going.
What do you mean your dad didn’t take care of himself?
He was a drinker and a smoker and had so many different types of cancer. He got diagnosed and then three months later he was gone. My mom [Linda Cox] and my stepdad [Dave Cox] follow me every round out here. My stepdad is a good guy; he takes good care of my mom, so it’s nice to have him out here. He and my mom both play golf. We go to the horse track once in a while—20 bucks here, 20 bucks there. It’s fun to just go have some peanuts and sit down and do nothing.
What did your father do that led you to live in these remote places?
He was a beer distributor for the better part of my adolescence. I was 6 or 7 years old when he got that job. He drove the Coors Light Silver Bullet truck all over the county, and set up their displays in the stores. Before that he just shot trap. He was in the Air Force for a little while. All these towns we lived in had no more than 500 people.
He was a silver medalist in trap shooting at the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City. Did you inherit that gene?
Oh, yeah. I was a junior state champion in Oregon. I shoot shotguns and pistols; I’ll go to the range and shoot the pistol. I shoot a lot. It’s how I grew up, shooting things and eating them. I haven’t gotten to do that very much. We did over Thanksgiving, got some turkeys.
Did you ever think you’d pursue shooting instead of golf?
No. I played baseball, and always wanted to do sports, something athletic. I broke my leg racing BMX bikes when I was 15 and turned to golf after that. It turned out to be a pretty good thing.
You really didn’t pick up a club until you were 15?
I played off and on with my grandpa. I just never took it seriously. I didn’t really have a passion for the game until I watched the 1992 Masters when Freddie [Couples] won, and the Ryder Cup at the Belfry [in 1993] when Davis Love made that putt. Those two guys really kind of inspired me.
What’s your relationship with Couples like?
Actually, the very first cut I made on the PGA Tour I played with Freddie. I ended up beating him by one. He shot 67, I shot 66. It was at the Classic Club, the Bob Hope. We got along after that because he always talked about how I kicked his butt. He’s a good sport. He was my idol.
In 2010, you made a nervous triplebogey on the last hole at Memphis to drop into a playoff you would lose to Lee Westwood. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said the public might never hear from you again. Have you sent him a fruit basket for inspiring you to win for the first time at Disney later in 2010?
Yeah, we were trying to get a hold of his people to play 18 holes with him for whatever he wanted, and put it on TV, which would have been a fun deal. I know people who have his number who were going to give him a call, but we didn’t do it. Whatever. He kind of spurred me on a bit, saying I was never going to win, and I knew I was going to win again. He didn’t know what he was saying.
There’s a story about you paying a caddie, not your regular caddie, $10,000 for two days of work after you missed the cut. He objected, but you said because you’d had dinners together all week, it was like you were paying him $1,600 a day for carrying the bag and $6,800 for doing the dishes. Is that accurate?
Yeah. It was a guy that needed the money. He didn’t know what the hell to say. I’ve done a lot of good things for caddies out here. I’ll pay for their lunch. I’ll take them all out to dinner. I don’t care how many there are. A lot of them scrape it around and don’t get a lot of money every week.
When was that?
I think it was on the Nationwide Tour when we weren’t making any money. But I had some money, so I did it. It was a little outlandish. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but I did. The guy thanked me very much for it.
And you go into the caddie trailer and pay for lunches?
Yeah, I do that quite often. It’s usually between $900 and $1,500 a day. So I did about $10,000 last year in food for the guys. I don’t do it to make friends. It just makes me feel good.
You went from a tiny putter to a long one for 2012. How long did it take you to get used to the broom handle?
A couple of months. I love it. The other putter is just sitting in the garage, waiting for his chance to get back in there, although I don’t think he’s going to. It’s been fun to putt well with the long one.
You say “he” when you refer to your little putter. Does he have a name?
Mini Me. The long one is Dr. Evil. We did a contest on Twitter to see who could come up with the best name. It’s a Scotty Cameron Big Sur. I went from a 28-inch putter to a 46-inch putter.
Still, you’re known for your driver. Do you feel somewhat shortchanged in that everybody focuses on your huge tee shots and nothing else?
That’s the thing. I’m a pretty damn good iron player, and I wedge it and putt it pretty good. The reason I won a golf tournament is not because I hit it far; it’s because I can make putts under pressure. I do get shortchanged a little bit, though. Everybody pumps up J.B. and Bubba and Dustin, and I’ve been hitting it past them for the last six years. [Ed. note: Not according to the numbers. See sidebar.]
Whoa, those are fighting words!
[Laughs] If you look at the stats, I’ve been in the top three the last six years and I led it two years, so, whatever. I just want to hit fairways and make putts now. The PGA Tour isn’t about measuring contests. It’s about making your good rounds great and your bad rounds decent.