May 2 2011
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Last Wednesday, Denny Hamlin shot a career-low 81 at Kinloch Country Club outside Richmond.
Then Hamlin got down to business at Richmond Motor Speedway. He drove his FedEx Camry to victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event on Friday and finished second in the Sprint Cup Series race on Saturday night.
The 16-time Sprint Cup winner stepped outside his comfort zone again on Monday, playing in the pro-am at the Wells Fargo Championship. The result? One of Hamlin's three best rounds, an 88, that included a 41 on the back nine, despite a double bogey at No. 10, his first hole of the day.
And the team – captained by PGA TOUR veteran Joe Ogilvie -- went on to win the pro-am. Hamlin contributed on six holes.
"I had a bad three-hole stretch on (his second nine) that kind of destroyed everything but I still played within my handicap," said a satisfied Hamlin, who recovered from triple bogeys at Nos. 6 and 7 to par his last two holes for a net birdie and net eagle.
His professional partner came away impressed.
"He hasn't played very much at all, i think he only took up the game 30 months ago," Ogilvie said. "He's a 21 handicap. ... He loves it, so I think he's on his way to a 10 handicap maybe by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. So his learning curve is great. He's a great guy and certainly a great representative of NASCAR."
Ogilvie says Hamlin's enthusiasm for the game, coupled with the mindset of an athlete, will accelerate that learning curve, too.
"At the end of the day, if you love golf, it makes the game a hell of a lot easier," Ogilvie said. "He loves it. He wants to get better. You take an athlete that's at the top of his game, they just have a different view of things.
"He wants to get better. he doesn't want to just go hack around at the golf course, he wants to get better. I think that's the way he probably drives as well."
Hamlin knows he has the edge in a stock car -- "I can tell you none of these golfers are going to come out and run a faster lap than me on a race track," he said. But the skill with which a pro like Ogilvie maneuvers a golf ball is equally impressive.
"It's amazing to me to see how they can pinpoint where they want it," Hamlin said. "He's thinking about where the wind direction is on his drive. I'm just looking to get it in the vicinity of about a 20-yard range. it"s amazing how good those guys are and how they focus."
While Hamlin makes his living driving cars at speeds in excess of 200 mph, he can appreciate the slower pace of a sport like golf.
"I like to say it's a relaxing game until I get angry and start throwing my clubs," the 30-year-old said. "The funniest thing I saw all day was I had an incident where I chipped past the green and there was this little girl. I took my iron and I chunked it into the ground and she said, 'Oh, Daddy. He's given up.' And I said, 'Yeah, you're right, I am giving up.'
"So that was the funniest thing I saw all day."
Hamlin now makes his home in Charlotte where he is an avid Bobcats fan but Monday was the first time he had ever played the Quail Hollow Club. The lefthander never played in front of so many people, either.
"It's bad enough when you're making wagers with your friends, the pressure, but to have people standing around waiting for you to hit you tee shots, it's tough," Hamlin said with a smile.
"... To be the first time here and as fast as the greens are, I'll take what we had today. Playing in stuff like this is a lot of fun."
Hamlin finished off his round by borrowing a right-handed driver and hitting it upside down -- a shot he learned from Bubba Watson when they played together in Phoenix last fall.
"Every time I hit that drive it's usually straight and obviously, it went further than everyone else's (today) too," Hamlin said. "So there's just something about that shot -- maybe you just concentrate on it more -- but when people see me put the club upside down and hit it, it's a little different."
Interestingly, Ogilvie, one of the PGA TOUR's most accomplished financiers, is part of a private equity fund that owns the Richard Petty Driving Experiences. So he's well-acquainted with what NASCAR drivers like Hamlin can do.
"I know a little bit about it, enough to be dangerous," Ogilvie said. "When you put a guy like me in the car and a guy like him in a car, you don't realize -- it's not even the same sport. What I do driving and what he does driving, it's amazing. ...
"They drive it an an optimal level. It's probably like what Bill Gates can do with a computer and what I can do with a computer. we both use them but one's going to get a whole lot more out of it than the other. And I think that's kind of the way he is with a car."