Palmer’s grandson looking to make own name
Sam Saunders is stepping out of his grandfather’s shadow.
A difficult task, considering that grandfather is none other
than Arnold Palmer.
Making his fifth PGA Tour start, the 22-year-old Saunders shot
69 for the third straight round Saturday, putting him at 3-under
207 and tied for 10th at the Honda Classic, eight shots behind
leader Camilo Villegas. So far this week, he’s shown two things:
that he was certainly worthy of the sponsor’s exemption into this
field, and that at least sometimes, he listens to his coach.
“He is my only coach,” Saunders said of his grandfather.
“We’ve been working together really hard for the last few months
now and that’s been going really well. I think he’s enjoyed it.
I’ve enjoyed it and my game has really gotten a lot better since we
Sure enough, Palmer – the 62-time winner on the PGA Tour who
says he won’t be at PGA National on Sunday for the final round,
even though he’s expected to play in a member-guest at a
neighboring course Monday – is giving the kid high marks.
“He is really starting to come into his own,” Palmer told a
pool reporter by telephone from his Orlando-area home Saturday.
“He has a lot of things he has to pick up on. I won’t be specific.
He has some shots he does not play as well as he should. That’s a
little experience and confidence. I’m very pleased and proud of
what he has done this week. It isn’t anything but what I would
Rocco Mediate has plenty of history with Palmer, and as luck
would have it, he was Saunders’ playing partner Saturday.
After Saunders beat him by five shots, the 2008 U.S. Open
runner-up was duly impressed.
“If he is the future of our tour, we are in good shape,”
Mediate said. “First of all, he’s a sweetheart, but man, can he
play! Wow! I knew he was good, but seeing him play a golf course
like this which really brings out your strengths and weaknesses,
Saunders has essentially been groomed for this.
He was never pressured into golf; he was the first of Palmer’s
grandchildren to truly embrace the game, and no one ever told him
not to try to follow in the footsteps “The King” left during his
Saunders once won Florida’s high school championship, and after
winning an elite junior tournament four years ago, he was the
top-ranked junior player in the country.
That tournament win, incidentally, was at PGA National’s
Champion course, the very track he’s playing this week.
“Got off to a good start and that kind of helps on a course
like this,” said Saunders, who briefly vaulted onto the first page
of the leaderboard after an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch on his
front side Saturday.
He got off to a good start last week as well, a 5-under 66
creating some buzz at the Phoenix Open. He followed that with a 79
and missed the cut.
“Sam is beginning to pick up on things,” Palmer said. “There
isn’t anything he can’t do. He can do whatever he dedicates himself
to on the golf course. He has a mind of his own and he’s going to
Palmer also doesn’t want much in the way of credit for Saunders’
“Be tough and play tough, but be nice. He has accomplished
that,” Palmer said. “He has to also learn to be tough on the golf
course. I think he’ll make his own mind about how to deal with
things. All I want to do is give him whatever influence I can to
help him do the right things. He’ll do it on his own. If I can give
him a lift, that would be great.”
Mediate is convinced, the kid won’t rely on sponsor’s exemptions
“He’s got it figured out,” Mediate said. “He’s got some good
people behind him, too.”