Pacific Palisades, CA …
Sam Saunders brilliantly rekindled further memories of his late grandfather, Arnold Palmer with a sizzling seven under par 64 to seize a two shot advantage on the opening day of the Genesis Open.
Saunders, 29 accepted an exemption into the event won by Palmer in 1963 and then again with victory in 1966 and 1967, and when the tournament was known as the L.A Open.
The Orlando-based Saunders has never contested the event nor previously teed-up on the Riviera course here in suburban L A.
“It was a lot of fun out there, and it’s never stress‑free but it was a low‑stress round as I could have”, he said.
“It was a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and a lot of good looks at birdie, and the few times I did miss out there, I put it in the right spot where I had fairly straightforward up‑and‑downs.
“I had some people tell me in the past that they thought this would be a good fit for me, some friends that play out on the Tour and I had always wanted to come play in the event obviously and was excited to come the first time, but now I understand why they said that. It’s really kind of, I think, a shot‑making golf course. You’ve got to drive the ball really well off the tee and you’ve got to control your iron shots into these greens, too. It’s not just hit it high and straight at it.
“So you’ve got to hit a cut shot into it to use the slope the right way or maybe turn one in to hold the green in another spot. So a lot of different shots you get to hit out there. Driving the ball in the fairway is hugely rewarded out here.”
It is only the third occasion in 13 rounds on the 2016/17 PGA Tour wraparound schedule Saunders has broken 70 and his effort makes a mockery of his recent showing in missing the cut in his last two events – the Career Builder Challenge and last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
And there was the natural question to Saunders early in his post round interview what his grandfather may have said to him about winning three L A Open’s.
“I know he loved it out here and I know he won it three times,” he said.
“I know it wasn’t at this golf course but we didn’t talk necessarily specifically about this course. He just always talked about how much he loved coming out here and playing. I think his celebrity matched pretty well with the celebrity atmosphere that you have here, so he was obviously very comfortable with that. But no, I guess we didn’t really talk much of specifics about the course”.
And Saunders took the time also to speak of Palmer’s memory in the few months now since ‘The King’s’ passing late last year and how he is coping tackling the PGA Tour full-time.
“It’s been a big change in my life, for sure,” he said. “Obviously my grandfather’s passing was ‑‑ it was a surprise but the service was wonderful and I think we celebrated his life in a really special way. The Golf Channel did an amazing job. I think everybody enjoyed all the coverage and all the tributes that so many people paid, not just players, not just golfers. There were presidents and celebrities and it was really special to see that and we continue to celebrate his life.
“For me personally, there’s been a lot more attention. I feel like I’ve taken on a little bit of a different role trying to be more a part of the tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, now on the board of Arnie’s Army Chartable Foundations which is extremely important to me, and throw on top of that that I’m still trying to be a husband and raise two kids. It’s been busy but busy in a good way. I’m still young and life should be busy at this point.
“Just trying to balance all that and continue to work on my golf game, which was nice to have a good off season down in Florida to be able to practice and feel like I came into this season sharp. Obviously I didn’t ‑‑ I haven’t gotten off to a great start on the PGA Tour in the four tournaments I’ve played, but I went down and played in the Web.com event in the Bahamas and finished eighth down there, which kind of validated the work that I put in this offseason and felt good despite the missed cuts so far. Felt really good about my game for this season.”