Every time Robert Garrigus stepped up to the tee on Saturday, whispers of incredulity rippled through the crowd. "That's Garrigus? I thought he was fatter," said one fan. "He looks way different in person," said another.
The thing is, this isn't the man they think they know.
This svelte power-hitter who sits atop the Canadian Open leaderboard going into the final round after equalling Arnold Palmer's 54-hole scoring for the tournament bears little resemblance to the golfer seared into the memory banks of average spectators.
It was two years ago at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis that the Idahoan first rose to prominence. Sitting on three-stroke lead on Sunday, he yanked a drive in the water and scored a triple bogey seven, forcing a playoff. He lost out after his drive rolled against a tree and he was forced to take a bogey. It was immediately known widely as "the Memphis Meltdown" and Garrigus -- sporting a double chin and small lakes of perspiration across his shirt -- became synonymous with the dreaded choke.
"I was sweating like a pig," Garrigus recalled with a chuckle on Saturday, after a third round 64 that put him one shot clear of William McGirt.
He can laugh now. Since that agonizing day in 2010 he's changed how he looks and how he thinks. One of the chins has disappeared and his attitude is so positive his fellow competitors seek him out for therapy.
"He's one of the most laid-back guys on Tour," said McGirt of his playing partner. "We got out there and just had fun today, laughing and joking all day."
Garrigus speaks freely about his transformation crediting a new devotion to fitness.
"I'm not even close to the same player [as Memphis]," he said. "My fitness level is off the charts from where it used to be. I rarely find myself sweating on the golf course...And I just think I'm more mature."
He's shed pounds but not yards. He remains one of the longest drivers on tour, routinely launching missiles of over 320 yards at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.
Rather than suppressing the memory of Memphis, he has used it as motivation for change. In that sense, the meltdown may have been the best thing for him.
"I could have won that tournament and not known how to deal with failure," he said. "But I think winning a golf tournament outright, that would be easy. And what I had to do was hard, just having to man up and do the interview afterwards and say, 'hey, I'm an idiot.'"
At the same time, he's become known as one of the Tour's most approachable players, often thanking volunteers and chatting up fans. "I always thank them," he said. "We need the fans. We need the volunteers. We need the sponsors, and a lot of guys out here don't lean that way to thank the volunteers."
He'll aim to be amiable but aggressive Sunday as he tries to reach at least 21-under, he said. Perhaps that's what it will take to win, and to erase the memories of the man he used to be.
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