Aftermath, Michigan II: Golf Has Provided Kevin Harvick's Mental Escape

Kevin Harvick didn't play particularly well at his foundation's Pro-Am on Monday, but he didn't particularly care. (Photo credit: Jeff Gluck)

Kevin Harvick stood on the first tee of the gorgeous Sedgefield Country Club wearing a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and a grin.

The Sprint Cup Series points leader picked up a driver – a club, not one of his NASCAR competitors – and warned onlookers to pay attention.

"Make sure you stand behind me when I tee off," Harvick said with a smile.

There was no need. Harvick boomed his tee shot long and straight, even out-driving pro golfer Jason Gore.

It seems Harvick has been out-driving everyone this year. Has his newfound love of golf played a part?

While perhaps golf alone isn't responsible for improving Harvick's on-track performance this season, when the Chase driver chases a white ball around for a few hours, it's helped him get away from it all.

The golf course has become Happy's happy place, an escape from the stresses, headaches and politics of the NASCAR garage.

And there's been plenty of those, despite all of Harvick's success this year.

Eight months ago, Harvick sounded as if he would switch teams after a miserable 2009 at Richard Childress Racing. His career appeared to be at a major crossroads.

Would he ever return to his winning ways? Would he switch teams at the midpoint of his career and start from scratch? Would he find a major sponsor to support his Cup effort?

Since those questions were posed, Harvick has:

  • Signed a multi-year contract extension to stay with Childress
  • Led the point standings for nearly the entire season
  • Attracted a new sponsor, Budweiser, which will be announced in a press conference on Tuesday
  • Started a charity foundation to benefit underprivileged kids
  • Taken up golfing

The last two items on that list went hand-in-hand on Monday, when the Kevin Harvick Foundation held a Pro-Am at Sedgefield, where Harvick is a member.

He didn't play particularly well, but unlike a bad day at the track, he didn't particularly care.

"Normally I play pretty good. Maybe I stayed up too late last night," he said, referencing the celebration for his win at Michigan.

Along with fellow Cup drivers Denny Hamlin, Scott Speed, TV commentator Hermie Sadler and University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams, Harvick endured a sweltering, muggy day on the course.

"I was more nervous that I've ever been in the race car my whole entire life," he said. "All I cared about was the first tee box."

And like he's done so often this year, he rose to the occasion.

Harvick and golf seem to be an odd fit at first glace.

Golf requires patience and calm, while Harvick can be short-tempered and sharp-tongued – at least at the track.

But when Harvick began golfing regularly, he took a liking to a sport that frustrates so many others.

Golf, as it turns out, has provided him the ultimate relaxation.

"It's great," he said. "We had a rough day at Michigan on Saturday, and I went to play golf. I forgot the truck race was even on until we got in the car to come back.

"No matter how you play on the golf course, it's always a good day."

That's why, throughout one of the busiest years of his life, Harvick has turned to golf as his escape.

This week, Harvick has racing-related obligations in the Budweiser announcement and the Bristol race weekend.

The other days, he'll fill with golf.

In addition to his own Pro-Am on Monday, he planned to play in another tournament on Wednesday and spend Thursday following friend Jason Gore in the first round of the PGA's Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield. Then Harvick will return to Sedgefield to watch the final round on Sunday.

"We're all competitive people," he said. "It's a challenge learning to play better. I'm still learning the etiquette. But to be honest with you, I really enjoy the camaraderie. It's the people in the clubhouse and being part of the community, the people you see on a weekly basis."

When Harvick is at Sedgefield, he doesn't have to answer a whole bunch of questions about sponsor searches or whether he can turn his most consistent season into his first Sprint Cup championship.

Has that escape helped? It certainly hasn't hurt.

Harvick's attempt at a fresh mental approach has even extended to racing. Typically a double-duty driver, Harvick pulled himself from the Nationwide Series race at Bristol on Friday night and put Elliott Sadler in the car instead.

That alone may show just how high the stakes are for Harvick this year. With only three races until the Chase begins – and perhaps with his best shot yet – it's important for Harvick to stay mentally healthy.

And for now, he is.

"So relaxed," he said. "Everything that's gone on, it's gone so well. We have a few more weeks to have fun with it, and then the pressure will turn back up for the last 10 weeks."

When it does, don't be surprised to find him on the first tee at Sedgefield wearing a polo shirt and a smile.

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