Ricky Stenhouse’s tee shot barely missed the fairway on the fifth hole at Austin Country Club, but he scrambled to make a par.
He may not have been a match for his playing partner, PGA Tour standout Marc Leishman. Unlike the 38-year-old Australian, who is competing in the World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament that starts Wednesday, Stenhouse was just happy to be here. He’s always happy to be anywhere there’s a golf course.
He was away from his day job as a long-time NASCAR racer but couldn’t wait to come to ACC to play six holes with Leishman on a bright, sunny Tuesday.
NASCAR puts the PGA Tour on Tuesday without any crashes on hairpin turns and only a bogey here and there. The left-handed Stenhouse is no weekend hacker, carrying a single handicap and having played as a freshman on his high school golf team in Mississippi.
Leishman and other PGA golfers Talor Gooch and Abraham Ancer had planned to head out to the Circuit of the Americas track in southeast Austin.
They were going to be treated to rides in Stenhouse’s Chevy Camaro before taking a few golf shots off the steep Turn 1 at the track. Talk about your elevated tee boxes.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Leishman, who has six career PGA Tour wins and is ranked 42nd in the world with six career PGA Tour wins. “I wouldn’t say I’m a massive race car fan, but I enjoy watching it.”
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Stenhouse watches all the golf he can and was considering heading to Augusta to catch a round at this year’s Masters in two weeks.
The 34-year-old NASCAR racer who drives the No. 47 Chevy in Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at COTA, took a turn — a slightly less dangerous one than his regular gig but no less challenging — at golf. He’s got a decent enough short game, but his driving could use some work.
He’s not exactly unfamiliar with the sport. He usually plays up to 30 rounds in a year but one year squeezed in 60.
“My index is a 3.0,” Stenhouse said.
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He’s always had an affinity for the game since his playing days for his DeSoto Central High School team in Olive Branch, Miss. He once shot a 71 at the Desert Mountain course in Phoenix, but he’s still looking for that elusive first hole-in-one.
He absolutely loves the sport and might have stuck with it if his father hadn’t taken him aside and told him to pick one. Golf or racing.
“I picked racing,” he said.
It was a fortuitous choice as he’s been driving in the NASCAR series for 10 years with two career wins at Daytona and Talladega. Just last weekend he was leading in the last NASCAR Cup Series event at the Atlanta Motor Speedway until he blew out a tire and left the race after the ensuing wreck.
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But his passion for golf has never wavered. In fact, he’s so engrossed with the second sport that he and two dozen other NASCAR drivers have put together their own golf league and compete for big prize money.
Well, relatively big.
“I’ve won our league twice,” Stenhouse said. “How much did I make? Close to eight grand. … I guess I’m not an amateur golfer anymore.”
He and as many as 24 of his fellow racers, including NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin, are avid golfers and lock heads in their “Golf Guys Tour” at least once a month. Both he and Larson have won their own golf league twice. They were set to fly out to Charlotte for a league round on Wednesday before returning to Austin.
“Yeah, we’re pretty serious,” Stenhouse said. “We’ve even got a rules committee and meetings.”
Their league includes all manners of handicaps including a few with an index of 24 or higher. Stenhouse said Larson quit the golf league for a time, devoted his free days to dirt racing, but the allure of golf was too great and brought him back.
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The golf provides a much-needed escape from the pressures of his real job and some camaraderie with his fellow drivers like Hamlin and Danny Hemric.
“It allows me to clear my mind,” Stenhouse said. “I can leave my phone in the bag and just kind of relax.”
Before he’s back in his Chevy calmly racing at 200 mph and negotiating turns while weaving in and out of traffic, kind of like Mo-Pac at rush hour.