Denny Hamlin experiences Augusta National inside the ropes

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Services, April 4, 2012).

Denny Hamlin made his reputation as a driver.

Bubba Watson made his reputation with his driver.

But Watson, one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, left his driver in the bag during Wednesday’s traditional Par-3 Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, a day before competition in The Masters starts in earnest at the vaunted club in eastern Georgia.

Hamlin carried Watson’s bag during the par-3 event played on Augusta National’s nine-hole executive course. The par-3 layout measures 1,060 yards compared with the championship course at 7,435 yards. Short irons, not the driver, are the order of the day on the short course.

Hamlin and Watson have become close friends through their mutual interest in golf. Born in Bagdad, Fla., Watson now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Hamlin spent much of the most recent NASCAR offseason working on his game. Coincidentally, both Hamlin and Watson play golf left-handed

Hamlin reportedly lowered his handicap considerably during the winter, but he is loath to admit it, given the damage a single-digit handicap might do to his ability to get an edge in the occasional golf wager. But Hamlin’s talent was in evidence last year when he acquitted himself admirably in the Wells Fargo Championship pro-am in Charlotte, N.C.

Serving as a caddie to the men who can really play the game is a different matter, even if it is in the informal atmosphere of the par-3 tournament, where golfers’ children have the run of the fairways and occasionally hit shots for their fathers.

Hamlin got his shot to join the pros Wednesday, but missed a putt for birdie on hole No. 9. Still, the experience of being a participant at one of golf’s most famous venues made an impression on the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

“It was a cool experience to come to Augusta and caddie for Bubba in the par-3 tournament,” Hamlin said. “We have become pretty good friends over the past couple years, and I have to thank him for the opportunity. I’ll be rooting for him in The Masters this weekend.”

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