Garrigus gets back on track with 67 at Oak Hill

Robert Garrigus during the first round of the PGA Championship.

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11:29:08 PM ET. 10/24/2014




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— Robert Garrigus’ story is built around honesty. To himself, to his teacher.

The former will forever be the catalyst to his life’s success, for Garrigus was able to fight the demons that threatened his destruction. Drugs owned Garrigus until he faced them down and took ownership of his life.

The latter will be credited in large part to turning around his golf fortunes, for Garrigus was able to seek assistance against the hiccups that ravaged his competitive career. A poor wedge game was his Achilles' heel until that day when he came clean.

“He told me his wedges were bad,” Jim Ahern said. “He wasn’t lying.”

They were at TPC Scottsdale, Ahern just muddling around, Garrigus hitting balls before a scheduled trip to the Children’s Miracle Network Classic in Orlando, Fla. It was the tail end of the 2010 season and while Garrigus was five years into his PGA Tour career, things were not going well.

In fact, they were dismal: just $737,275 earned in 21 tournaments. He was down to just one start and, yes, he was looking for some Disney magic.

He got it, too, courtesy of Ahern’s 11th-hour wedge-game lesson, the day before he left for Disney.

“I remember he said, ‘From 80 yards I’m just hoping to get it on the green,’ “ Ahern said. “I told him that we had to fix that.”

They did, too, because Garrigus won that season finale. While it remains his only PGA Tour victory, the long-hitting 36-year-old has quietly improved his stature. From 74th in the FedEx Cup standings in 2011, he was 23rd a year ago and the way 2013 began, it looked like Garrigus was ready to take the next step.

He might still, but certainly Garrigus has needed a gut-check this season. Fortunately, he’s not adverse to such challenges.

“I think he would tell you,” said Ahern, a former competitor on both the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, “that what he overcame in life is nothing when compared to the golf course.”

So when things started to spin a bit out of control down the stretch during Thursday’s first round of the 95h PGA Championship, Garrigus had the perfect temperament to maintain composure. The end result was a 3-under 67 at Oak Hill Country Club and to appreciate the smile he wore, consider that in his other 11 appearances in a major championship, Garrigus’ first-round average was 74.72.

In fact, his scores to start this year’s Masters (76), U.S. Open (80), and Open Championship (78) had pretty much left Garrigus out of it before it started, so he had reason to feel relief. Most thrilling is that it came built around a series of birdie putts – seven.

Credit to Ahern, who recently practiced with Garrigus in Scottsdale and tossed a new putter into the mix.

“I started rolling them in and said to myself, ‘I don’t care how long (the putter) is, I don’t care what it weighs, I haven’t seen balls go in the hole, so I’m switching.’ “

Ahern had given Garrigus the putter just to try the grip, one of the oversized ones. But Garrigus took the putter, too, a Ping Y Worry. It worked, but so did a new attitude. “It’s all feel,” Garrigus said. “I’d lost the art of making a putt. I was trying to make a perfect stroke every time.”

It was a day not without its negatives, however, the worst being at the 186-yard, par-3 sixth. Sitting 4-under at the time, Garrigus had just hit a 7-iron from 178 yards at the par-4 fifth so both he and caddie Brent Henley thought it was the right club again.

Wrong.

“I hit the same exact shot,” Garrigus said. “I thought it was a one (an ace).” But instead, it was long and wet, into a stream behind the green.

“My caddie and I said, ‘What the hell just happened?’ There is no way that should have happened, but it did.”

Henley agreed that it was stunning. “We had talked about it for three days. Don’t go past that hole, we said.”

No reason to take on the same shot, so Garrigus chose the drop area, but from 140 yards and with wedge in hand, “we were scared to death of that one, too,” Henley said.

After a birdie at the seventh was offset by a bogey at the eighth, Garrigus came to his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth, and tasted a little bit of good fortune. His second shot came up just short of the green and rolled back a steep slope some 45 yards. Having honed his wedge game under Ahern’s tutelage, Garrigus cashed in: one hop and in, the 40-yard birdie play produced a fist pump and a high-five with Henley.

“I don’t ever feel like I deserve good breaks on the golf course,” Garrigus said, “but when I get ‘em I’m not complaining. It was a hard, hard golf shot, so I’m glad it went in. Nothing’s gone right the last three months, so it was pretty nice to see that.”

He was just being honest. As always.

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