F1 Grand Prix of Mexico - Previews
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When was the last time golf brought you unadulterated joy? Perhaps it was last week when you broke 90 for the first time and told yourself you would play 36 more holes if daylight allowed. Or perhaps it was two months ago when you made a three at the last to win your club championship. 

Maybe it has been a while. Maybe, these days, golf does little more than irritate and surface your worst traits while inflaming your relationship with the game. Maybe you play out of routine or ritual but have not in quite some time felt the spark of delight that the game is so kind to sometimes offer.

Maybe you have lost your joie de vivre.

Last week, ahead of the F1 race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, I played nine holes at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa with Alpine's highest-ranked driver, 27-year-old Frenchman Pierre Gasly. 

While I didn't know what to expect in a crossover game with a world-famous athlete like Gasly, what blew me away was neither his talent nor his hand-eye coordination nor his insight in how playing the slowest sport translates into success in the fastest. He was impressive in all of those facets, to be sure, but what I did not expect -- and was nearly envious of -- was his sheer, unconditional love for a game that clearly has him spellbound.

Gasly, who has been an F1 driver since age 21, has four older brothers who were into both racing and golf. He picked up both pastimes from them but said he traditionally has only played golf two to three times a year. That was until the end of 2022 when he dove into the game head-first and has yet to come up for air.

"Last year, I started to really get into it and really enjoy and get that sort of addiction of trying to level up your game every single time you go there," Gasly said. "I'm still far away from where I would like to be. I've gotten into that process where I really enjoy going out there and the game itself. Going outdoors. Using this time to socialize. I find it really amazing for your headspace mentally, psychologically, just for your focus which is really long in our sport in F1, but it's so important in golf. There's a lot of benefits from it."


There are certainly benefits, but it became clear early in our round that those benefits for Gasly are incidental and not primary. At the forefront for him are hitting great golf shots and beating anyone else who's on his card. Throughout the round, he counted every stroke (for both of us) and kept a closer eye on my scorekeeping than the FIA keeps on his (or anyone else's) car.

You may remember enjoying the game in this specific way. 

"As an athlete, if you're going to face someone else, there's always going to be competition involved," he told me.

We have all played with someone who presents this level of difficulty on the course, someone who thinks you care as much about his score as he does. This was not that. Once the shot or the hole or the round was over, Gasly was down to talk about anything -- our families, his career arc, our favorite cities, my curiosity about how "Drive to Survive" has affected him personally. His ability to balance a competition and a conversation was impressive.

Mostly, though, he wanted to talk about golf: how to hit certain shots, what to do in different situations. I am no great golfer, but I obliged (and was even amused by) his queries throughout. It was a fun nine-hole match that, at least during his shots, he treated with tremendous seriousness.

It hit me about halfway through our round that Gasly may very well be, affectionately, a golf sicko. Truly one of us. When I asked about his self-proclaimed addiction, he sounded like someone who is one of the 20 best in the world at what he does. 

"There is the obsession for perfection," said Gasly. "Anything I do, I don't want to do it average. When I start to get into something, I really want to become good at it. I've become very competitive."

But there was something else, this kernel of almost boy like curiosity that was persistent throughout the round. It surfaced when he hit a good shot, when he saved a bogey and when he spoke about the game.

"I get pleasure in working on my golf game," he said. "It's not in every activity that you do that you really get satisfied in the progress that you make."

Gasly is not necessarily alone in the world of F1 when it comes to holding affection for golf. Several other drivers have found themselves drawn into the game.

Gasly will be joined by Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris and Alex Albon in three weeks at the Netflix Cup on Nov. 14 in Las Vegas. This match will be shown live on Netflix (a rarity for the service) and will feature those four drivers alongside four PGA Tour players -- Max Homa, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Rickie Fowler -- in a competition against one another with two F1 drivers and two PGA Tour pros to a team.

Though Gasly, whose goal is to lower his handicap under 20 by the end of the year, said he's nervous about playing in front of fans, it's hard to imagine him being more excited about anything than he is about playing in that match. 


Perhaps there is a connection between good golf and good driving. When I spoke with him a week after we played -- a few days after he placed sixth in the Austin race -- he hinted that his performance in our nine holes put him in a good headspace the rest of the week. It locked him in for what was his second-best performance of the year to date.

"What I love about golf, which is very different from our sport, is that when the lights go off for us, we are in it for an hour and a half and there is not a single second where we can get out of focus away from what we'er doing," he said. 

"That intensity in golf, it is almost like the complete opposite where you have to be very composed and focused for a very short period of time. Get your focus away and then get back into it. You have to practice that. I can't be wired for four hours. Sometimes it is great to practice the opposite of what you are doing because you still benefit from it when I get into a race and that moment where I have to ... switch on."

I was struck throughout our round by the reality that I was playing with someone who has it all: wealth, fame, success and anything else you associate with a modern superstar athlete. And yet all he cared about -- I cannot possibly overstate how much he cared about this -- was hitting the next shot perfectly. Sure, it mattered to him that golf is ostensibly good for driving, but that's obviously not why he plays.

Near the end of our round, we started to total the scores up, and it became clear that he was two holes up on me as we stood on the last tee box. I declared the match play portion of our day over. I'm not sure he would have been more excited if he had taken pole in the qualifying later in the week. 

The childlike wonder returned when he started going over every hole on the card.

"I made a birdie," he exclaimed as if he had ever forgotten about it, "and a par!"

Joie de vivre. It is elusive, but Gasly -- as many of us do at one point or another when it comes to golf -- has found it. He's found something worth hanging onto.