FARMINGTON — They talk about love at first sight and that’s basically what it was for Robert Garrigus, who saw Oakridge Country Club for the first time earlier this week and played it for the first time Thursday morning.
The 41-year-old PGA Tour veteran fired a sparkling 7-under par 64 to put himself in the lead after the first round of the Utah Championship on a windy day that kept many golfers from going low in the first round of the $725,000 tournament.
“I walked around the other day and said, ‘this is going to be fun,’” Garrigus said. “It’s great, the golf course is amazing. It shapes every shot you have to hit. The greens are small and tough and poa annua (grass), and I grew up on that. I love the place.”
Asked if he often will play a golf course for the first time in a tournament round, Garrigus said, “I’m pretty notorious for that. I’m a feel player, I don’t do the Trackman or the greens books. As I was walking around the course, I liked the look of it.”
Garrigus is playing for only the second time since being suspended for three months by the PGA Tour for a drug violation in March. The PGA called it “drug of abuse,” but Garrigus confirmed that it was marijuana in a statement of his own at the time.
He had overcome drug and alcohol abuse some 15 years earlier and since then he has apparently been clean as a regular on the PGA Tour with $14 million in earnings and one victory before losing his exempt status last year. When asked about his recent suspension for marijuana use Thursday, Garrigus was forthright and indicated it was sort of a blessing in disguise.
“I was using it for medical reasons,” he said. “I had my medical card in Arizona and I went over the limit and got popped and I spent three months at home and had to think about it. I lost 20 pounds, but I feel great now, clean, healthy, happy — everybody’s good. I got a lot of rest. It was actually a nice break to tell you the truth, definitely refreshing.”
Garrigus grew up in Idaho and Oregon and went to college in Arizona, where he now lives, so he feels comfortable playing in the West. “The altitude doesn’t bother me,” he says.
He used to be known as a long hitter — he led the PGA Tour in driving distance in 2009 and 2010, but now he relies on his consistent ball-striking and his putting, which was on in Thursday’s round.
“I made a couple of putts on my back nine, I started seeing them going in,” he said. “I was kind of praying that was going to happen after all my time off. It was a great day, I rolled it really well, hit it well, did a lot of things well today. If the putts start going in and I get confident with it, the numbers go low.”
Garrigus, who tees off at 1 p.m. Friday, leads Justin Lower by one stroke and three golfers — Charlie Saxon, Matthew Campbell and Utah’s Daniel Summerhays — by two. In all, 51 players broke par in Thursday’s first round compared to 100 in last year’s opening round thanks to the gusty conditions.
Summerhays, who grew up near Oakridge where he has played hundreds of times, has struggled on the Korn Ferry Tour this year with just three made cuts in 15 tournaments, and got off to a great start with birdies on four of his first eight holes. He bogeyed No. 10 and birdied holes 14, 15 and 17 before finishing with a bogey on the final hole.
Among the other locals in the tournament, Orem’s Zac Blair shot a 2-under-par 69, 16-year-old amateur Preston Summerhays shot a 2-over 73 and Park City pro Steele DeWald came in with a 72.
Blair, who got off to poor starts in both of his rounds at the U.S. Open two weeks ago, did the same thing Thursday, though not as bad, as he made bogeys at No. 10 and No. 12 after starting on the back nine. After that he played nearly flawlessly as he made four birdies without a bogey the rest of the way.
Summerhays, the reigning State Amateur champ, started off great, with three birdies in five holes to get to 2-under-par at the turn. But on the back nine, he had a string of four straight bogeys from holes 11 to 14 and finished with a 39 on the back.
DeWald also started slowly with three bogeys on his first five holes, but came back with five more birdies to go with three bogeys and finish at 1-over.
Utah Championship leaderboard
Robert Garrigus 64
Justin Lower 65
Daniel Summerhays 66
Charlie Saxon 66
Matthew Campbell 66
Zac Blair 69
Steele DeWald 72
Preston Summerhays 73