Denny Hamlin Uses Golf As Tune-Up For Southern 500 At Darlington

Denny Hamlin was starting to fall apart on the golf course Monday during a Pro-Am in advance of this weekend's Wells Fargo Championship.

After chipping past one of the greens at the gorgeous Quail Hollow Club, Hamlin slammed his pitching wedge into the ground in frustration.

Nearby, a young girl from the small gallery who followed Hamlin saw the NASCAR driver's reaction to his shot and wasn't impressed.

"Oh, Daddy!" she said to her father. "He's giving up!"

Hamlin heard the girl and laughed. She was right – in the moment, he was getting down on himself. But he regained his composure on some later holes and finished strong.

In other words, it's exactly what he hopes to do with this NASCAR season.

"Even my friends were saying while we had that bad stretch on the back nine: 'The holes are done. Just par the last two.' And we did," Hamlin said. "So you've just got to put out the bad stuff. Every time I go to Richmond or Martinsville, it makes no difference what I did the week before (or) the month before – when I go there, I know I can win."

Despite sitting 17th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, Hamlin is hoping his second-place finish at Richmond last weekend will give him the needed confidence boost to turn his season around.

As he put it, the No. 11 team "needs to par" every race until the Chase cutoff to make it into the top 10. And that's very doable, he said.

"I still just feel like there's so much time left and there's so much potential for us, I'm confident we can go out and win every week," he said. "If all I knew we had was a 15th-place car every week and we had to finish there to make the Chase, I'd be sweating it. But I know we've got a team that can win any given week."

If there's any place where Hamlin can maintain his newfound momentum, it's Darlington Raceway – a place he considers one of his best tracks.

The stats back that up, too. Hamlin is the defending Southern 500 champion and has an average finish of 6.6 at Darlington. Amazingly, that's equal to his average finish at Martinsville – where he's known as a master.

In fact, Hamlin has the best average finish at Darlington of any driver in NASCAR.

"I love the place," he said. "There's something about the challenge of that racetrack that I just gravitate to. It's no different than playing golf. It's so hard that I like trying it. ... I like challenges, and Darlington is the biggest challenge on the circuit."

The driver is also picking up steam in his golf game. Though he writes right-handed, he plays golf as a lefty – and is getting fairly good at it. He broke 90 in his Pro-Am round on Monday afternoon and said his goal is to be consistently in the mid-80s by the summer.

And despite a handful of curious NASCAR reporters scrutinizing his swing, Hamlin said he wasn't nervous about his round at Quail Hollow.

"I'm playing with house money – what have I got to lose out here?" he asked, then added: "Other than my dignity?"

Below: Check out a video of Hamlin – a lefty – using a right-handed driver off the tee on his 18th hole of the day. Hamlin said PGA star Bubba Watson taught him to hit the driver reverse.

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