LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander sat in his usual chair in front of his usual locker at Joker Marchant Stadium, like he has for the last seven Spring Trainings. He chatted with Rick Porcello a few feet over, said hello to manager Jim Leyland on his way in and checked in with clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel.
It was the day for pitchers and catchers to report to Tigers Spring Training, starting another year with Verlander as one of the faces of the franchise. It would've been hard to tell that, less than 24 hours earlier, he was standing on the 18th green at Pebble Beach, one of the crown jewels of golf.
The smile on his face as he talked about his weekend gave it away.
"That was a lot of fun," Verlander said. "I don't know the grind that those guys go through. I just went to one tournament, so that's kind of hard to gauge. But that was a lot of fun for me."
The Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was one of the rare times Verlander allowed himself to compete without the competitive streak that sends him into another mode. He wanted to hold his own, and he flashed some of that feistiness talking about his final round, when he had a chance to challenge for the lead.
More than anything, Verlander wanted to enjoy what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to golf alongside not only some of the greats in the game but some of the best in other sports. Maybe surprisingly, he fought off his mound instincts and allowed himself to do that.
"I mean, it was so much [fun]," Verlander said. I tried not to be [that guy]. I didn't want to get into that mode, because I feel like I wouldn't have enjoyed it. I wanted to be able to take it in and have a good time. …
"I guess it's probably different in their sport because they walk around and it's like six-, seven-hour rounds. My partner [Robert Garrigus], he was talking to me and stuff. If I'm trying to go into game mode like I'm starting, I'd be the worst pro-am partner in the history of golf."
He also had to turn on his humility. His opening round, by his estimation, was rough, and it culminated in one of the most memorable photos of the event. He was in the rough on the par-5, sixth hole on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, staring at the result of his tee shot -- and four deer were staring back at him.
"They were like 10 feet away," Verlander said. "They weren't scared at all."
Unlike Giants fans who were on the course over the weekend, at least they weren't heckling him. He expected it, giving how close he was to the Bay Area, and the references to World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval were frequent by his estimation. He let it roll off his back, though he plans to get his revenge if he can win a World Series this fall and make it back to Pebble Beach next year.
"I'll have all sorts of jokes for people," he said. "I'll have shirts made. It's going to be game on."
The flip side, he said, came Sunday after he and Garrigus made the cut and were paired with two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
"After I hit my driver, he comes over to Robert's caddy and says, 'Who is this guy?'" Verlander said.
His worst shot was the one that brought him up close with the deer. It was part of an opening day that had a golf pro offering him lessons. His best shot, by his estimation, was the one he hit in front of Goosen, nearly acing a hole. It was part of a final-round surge that seemed reminiscent of his finishing kick on the mound, and it was the one time he allowed his competitive instincts to take over.
In the end, he and Garrigus finished tied for 13th place in the best-ball Pro-Am category at minus-26, five strokes off the lead.
Verlander had the time of his life at Pebble Beach, he said. But he still couldn't wait to get back to his day job.
Not long after his final putt hit the cup, Verlander was in the air, flying across the country before landing in Lakeland late Sunday night. Come Tuesday morning, he'll be back to work, trying to use a longer Spring Training to his advantage and start building up the right arm that has piled up 538 innings of work over the last two seasons.
After a discussion with pitching coach Jeff Jones, Verlander delayed his throwing program until last month, giving his arm a longer rest. He didn't get on the mound for his first throwing sessions until a little more than a week ago, which is a big reason why he eventually opted against pitching in the World Baseball Classic.
"I don't want to have to feel rushed to catch up to where I need to be," he said. "I want to be able to do it the right way."
He also doesn't want to be distracted, which could put an interesting wrinkle into his contract situation with two seasons left on his current deal. He has had no indication an agreement is close, and he has seven weeks before Opening Day in Minnesota. He hasn't put a cutoff date on potential talks, and he doesn't plan to. He wants to let his agent, Michael Milchin, take care of that.
"I'm not worried about anything," he said. "I just want to go out there and pitch. Whatever else happens, that happens."
The only instruction he has given is that he would like to stay in Detroit, if at all possible. He wants to remain a Tiger, and he'd like to become a regular at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He likes where he's at in his career.
If the weekend was the time of his life, Monday morning was a good way to get back to work. He came to camp, worked out, talked with reporters about golfing at Pebble Beach, then set up a tee time nearby with some teammates for the afternoon.