06/16/2005 12:00AM

Track and links similar in theory

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The U.S. Open, our country's national golf championship, is being held this weekend at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C.

Serious golf fans will obviously be watching, as will marginal fans who just watch one or two events a year, just like the Kentucky Derby is the must-see event for all levels of horse racing fans.

In fact, there is a lot of crossover in the fan bases. A lot of golfers love to play the ponies, and a lot of horseplayers love to hit the little white ball. And let's just say that the amount of money wagered on golf courses across this country would make a lot of racetracks jealous.

But can the lessons from one activity be linked to the other? Patrick McQuiggan certainly thinks so.

McQuiggan, who has been a co-host on the "Track Talk" radio show here in Vegas since 1991, is the race book host at Sam's Town Hotel and Gambling Hall in Las Vegas. He posts plays every day that Southern California has a racing card, and organizes group pick six tickets for the customers. This past Sunday, the group split the $15,169.80 payoff at Hollywood Park.

He is also an avid golfer, playing 18 holes three days a week and volunteering on Thursday nights with the nationally sponsored First Tee youth program at a local municipal course.

"I love golf, and I've been playing for 30 years," said McQuiggan, who turns 50 on July 8, "but it wasn't until 10 years ago when I got real serious about the game that I saw more and more similarities with horse racing.

"Every time you go to hit a golf ball, it's like opening a Racing Form and handicapping a new race. No two shots are the same, just like no two races are the same. In golf, you have to adapt to the conditions. You have different distances and even different types of dirt or the thickness of the grass or the sand, and the weather can also be different from the last time you played. It's the same in horse racing, with horses coming from different tracks and surfaces, and you have to check if they were running against track or post biases. You have to take all these things into account and determine whether you're going to hit a straight seven-iron or a straight $100 bet."

Both games can test the will of any player, but the payoffs - both emotionally and financially - are worth it.

"In golf, you're always looking for that recovery shot, just like you're always looking for that get-out race," he said. "One good golf shot makes for par, and one good race makes for a profitable day."

Of course, hitting a pick six makes up for a lot of losing days, just like a great round can make a golfer forget all his bad days.

But McQuiggan said the key is in handling those frustrating times, and ultimately that skill separates the amateurs from the pros.

"The biggest part of both games is mental," he said. "Dealing with my golf game has certainly helped me as a handicapper. When you hit a bad shot in golf, it's easy to have an angry emotion and let that affect your play. You have to put that behind you and get ready for your next shot. It's the same with horse racing. If you make a bad choice in a horse race or have a bad beat - from a bad jockey ride or having your horse DQ'd by the stewards or losing a photo finish - you can't beat yourself over it. You have to keep the emotions out and concentrate on the next race. That's how you beat those two games."

McQuiggan says his handicap is 11, though he lets out his trademark laugh when it is suggested his handicap is that he golfs. But all jokes aside, he says it takes a dedication to the game to succeed at either.

"You can't be a good golfer without practicing, and you can't beat the races without putting in the work handicapping," he said. "You're always working to improve your technique in your golf swing and your technique in your handicapping."

McQuiggan says both games also have the equivalent of a 19th hole.

"At the end of the day, you can either drown your sorrows or drink the champagne and celebrate," he said. "And I've been known to do both."