Big bomber Garrigus beats drug addiction to make his Open debut

He used to smoke cannabis between shots, but a spell in rehab has helped this American to fulfil his talent
  • @jackpittbrooke

Rory McIlroy was not the only man to exceed himself at the US Open. Nor was he the only golfer to put behind him a traumatic recent collapse. And he is not the only man riding momentum from Congressional into this week's Open at Royal St George's. Ten shots behind the McIlroy phenomenon at the US Open last month, Robert Garrigus tied for third place and had Lee Westwood for company. Having never made the cut at a major before, it was a personal achievement almost as rousing as McIlroy's rout of the field.

Garrigus is heading into his first Open championship, and will be in the third-from-last group to tee off, at 3.49pm on Thursday. It will be his next step on a long climb which started in 2003 when he cleansed himself of a damaging drug addiction. "The whole reason I'm here is because I chose to change my life," he recently told Golf Digest magazine. In 2003 he was one of a number of golfers with an addiction to cannabis. "Oh yeah, there were plenty of guys on the Nationwide Tour who smoked in the middle of the round," Garrigus recalled. "We always talked about it. You could go in the John and take your drags."

As a talented 25-year-old with a drug problem and no wins to his name, Garrigus decided to change after seeing an advert for Calvary Ranch, a Christian rehabilitation centre. "I was feeling sorry for myself, thinking I was wasting my career and my life," he said. "I was 25, and I hadn't done anything special. I felt I could be beating the guys I was playing against. I felt guilty about everything, and I knew I needed help. I knew if I could get clean, I could succeed. But I didn't know how to get there until that night."

From there, it was a long road in the right direction. Settled with a wife and family, and clear of addiction, Garrigus started to live up to the promise he showed growing up in Oregon and at college in Arizona, where he now lives.

One of the most powerful hitters in golf, Garrigus led the PGA Tour in driving distance in the past two seasons, regularly firing drives over 310 yards. If that alone does not make him a star, his notable putting style does. Garrigus uses a putter just 28 inches long, hunching over the shortened club to get closer to the ball. This combination of the brutal and the precise makes Garrigus one of the more memorable sights on Tour.

These improvements brought him to the brink of a first ever tour triumph in the St Jude Classic in June last year. Leading by three shots going into the 72nd hole, his Jean Van de Velde tribute act dragged him into a play-off, which Westwood won.

It was a collapse as traumatic as McIlroy's at the Masters in April. Like McIlroy though, Garrigus returned within months to cure his disappointment with success. He won the Children's Miracle Network Classic last November, his first tour win. Since then he has been riding the wave of form that led to his US Open performance. McIlroy aside, Garrigus was the only man at Congressional to be under par in all four rounds; he was only the eighth man to achieve that at a US Open, and the third to do so without winning.

That result has set him up to play at next year's US Open and his first Masters, where, given his past, he expects to stand out. "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. I'm probably the farthest thing from a country-club guy they'll ever see there," he told Golf Digest. "It's a validation of everything I've been trying to do with my life these last seven to eight years."