- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sprawled out on a couch at 3 a.m. watching infomercials in a drug-and-alcohol induced stupor isn’t the most likely time for anyone to experience an epiphany. Yet for Robert Garrigus, it was the perfect moment to change his life.

The 29-year-old, who shot 67 yesterday at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club to move into a tie for third at the AT&T; National at 4-under, is seemingly a world away from the out-of-control existence he once had.

Turns out it was just more than four years ago when Garrigus sat in his Scottsdale, Ariz., home and watched an advertisement for Calvary Ranch, a Christian rehabilitation center in San Diego.

“I was all wasted and I saw this thing and said ‘Wow, that sounds like fun, getting my life straight,’ ” Garrigus said.

There wasn’t much steady about it at the time. He was already a golf vagabond at 25, shuffling from the Nationwide Tour to an annual unsuccessful trip to qualifying school and back, doing little to distinguish himself in the process.

His abuse of alcohol and marijuana didn’t help matters. Instead of consistently approaching rounds in a lucid manner, Garrigus was forced to not only battle the course but also his own lack of coherence.

“All the time,” Garrigus said of his experience of playing while high. “That’s when I knew I needed to stop.”

The late-night decision led to a call to the rehab center, and Garrigus packed up his car and drove more than 350 miles a day later. He faced an intense 45 days during his stay, a stretch he likened to boot camp. He slept in a bunk bed and attended frequent bible studies and services. There was also no access to television, newspapers or cell phones.

The results were immediate. While reshaping his mind, he also changed his body, adding 30 pounds of muscle. He also later met his future wife Ami on a blind date.

His game changed as well. Garrigus gradually improved on the Nationwide money list, and finally made it through the PGA Tour’s Q-school after repeated attempts in 2005. He was 144th on last year’s money list, but responded by going back to qualifying school and earning his way back for this season.

“I wasn’t cloudy any more,” Garrigus said. “Being clear and calm on the golf course means the world to me. Before it was all clouded and I was frustrated and I’d get mad at myself. Now, that doesn’t even creep into my mind anymore.”

The opportunity to win might soon have a place in his thoughts. Garrigus‘ best finish of the season is a tie for fifth at Houston, and he has two top-10s in 46 career starts. He didn’t seem likely to make a charge after a few early bogeys, but played his final 12 holes in 4-under to pull within three shots of K.J. Choi and Stuart Appleby.

But Garrigus also realizes he already has earned a bigger victory than anything he can accomplish this weekend.

“Anything that happens on the golf course doesn’t mean anything compared to what I went through in rehab,” Garrigus said. “Changing your life over is the hardest possible thing you can do.”

The crowd of reporters around Garrigus grew yesterday as he patiently explained the details of his fall and rise, including a massive sense of disappointment in himself as he sat on his couch and pondered his mistakes.

Those feelings are long since gone. In their place are an obvious appreciation for his improved play, an even greater pride in the life he has created for himself and a willingness to share his experiences with others.

“I know I’m never going to do it again,” Garrigus said. “I know I did it before. So what? If people want to hear about my story, that’s great. I don’t think it’s negative toward me in any way because I know I’m never going to do it again and I don’t ever think about doing that.”

Still, it’s tough not to consider what could have happened without that realization a few years. But chances are good he wouldn’t be leading the likes of Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Justin Rose and Geoff Ogilvy entering this weekend.

“I wouldn’t be standing here right now,” Garrigus said. “I’d either be dead in the gutter somewhere or I would be in jail for any number of things. I don’t even think about because I changed my life and it’s so nice to be sober and happy and living my life the way it is. It’s just awesome.”

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