117729238 Golf Veteran Robert Garrigus Coming on Strong

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Golf is such a fickle game. Players can toil for years in relative anonymity and then suddenly emerge on the scene.

Robert Garrigus knows this all too well.

He turned pro in 1997, bounced from the Hooters and Gateway tours to the now Nationwide Tour, before earning his PGA Tour playing card in 2006. Prior to the 2011 season, he averaged roughly 26 starts and 16 made cuts a season. In the statistical categories that matter most, Garrigus had a win—the 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Classic—a second, two thirds and a bevy of top 25s.

That all changed two weeks ago at the U.S. Open when Garrigus shot four sub-par round at Congressional Country Club, tied for third and still placed 10 shots back of champion Rory McIlroy.

117729234 Golf Veteran Robert Garrigus Coming on Strong

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Thursday, Garrigus shot a 2-under-par 68 in the AT&T National’s opening round to put himself in contention at Aronimink Golf Club.

“I’ve had more recognition about the Open than my two seconds and my win. That was a big tournament,” said Garrigus, 33, of his Open experience. “A lot of people that don’t normally watch golf because Tiger [Woods] and the big guys aren’t playing, they were watching last week, and they were watching on Sunday to watch history, and I happened to pop in there for the last couple holes and get a little peek of what it’s all about from not winning.”

Still, Garrigus, of Nampa, Calif., had a defining moment. On the 72nd hole, Garrigus thought he needed to make birdie to ensure a spot in next spring’s Masters. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Garrigus had a cushion.

On the green, he surveyed a 22-foot birdie putt.

“It was a 22-footer that broke three feet, and I just buried it, and I got so excited,” he said of a reaction that included an exulted fist pump. It was a genuine show of emotion because that’s how I felt. I shot 39 on the front and 31 on the back. I don’t think anybody shot 31 on the back on Sunday, so that was a lot of fun.”

116970220 Golf Veteran Robert Garrigus Coming on Strong

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

That Garrigus is even on tour, much less in contention, is a story unto itself. In 2003, after years of alcohol and drug abuse, Garrigus checked himself into Calvary Ranch, a San Diego-area rehabilitation center.

Forty-five days later, he was clean and sober. Today, largely because of his U.S. Open finish, Garrigus is set to play in the PGA Championship and next year’s Masters and U.S. Open.

Clearly his career is arching. But even if it were not, given what he’s been through, it would be okay.

“If I was 8 over I’d be the same way,” he said. “I’ve always been that way. I’ve always been a guy that is not going to get down on myself. I enjoy myself. I enjoy everything that I do. I think I’m the luckiest guy on the planet to play golf for a living.”

Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.

Watch & Listen LIVE