Saunders moving out of grandpa's shadow

Sam Saunders

Sam Saunders

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8:25:12 PM ET. 04/17/2014




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LA QUINTA, Calif. – The infamous PGA Tour Q-School should be renamed the Crash & Burn Open.

Boo Weekley, once a star on the PGA Tour, opened with an unstarlike 74 Wednesday in the Q-School finals at PGA West. In a field of 172 players, he trails 145 of them after the first of six rounds. He crashed.

Ty Tryon, who earned a PGA Tour card at 17, is now 27. With an opening 78, he is tied for last. He burned.

For every Q-School victim, there seems to be a survivor. Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, is one who avoided disaster in the first round, shooting 68 at the Nicklaus Tournament course.

Two layouts are being used for the Q-School finals. The Stadium course, designed by Pete Dye, generally is considered more difficult than the Nicklaus Tournament course. The 108-hole competition includes three rounds on each course.

Saunders is maturing into a fascinating golfer. He talks like his own man, finally learning how to emerge from the gigantic shadow of his grandfather.

When asked what he has learned in his two years as a professional, Saunders answered swiftly.

“Patience,” he said. “A lot of times, you want stuff to happen really fast. I’ve just learned to let things happen. Do what I can, and things will fall into place if I just keep working at it.”

He doesn’t feel the need for a mental coach.

“Nope, I don’t have one,” he said. “My dad. He helps me a lot. There is nobody specifically.”

His grandfather?

“We talk. He’s given me all the tools I need and all the advice I need. At this point, it’s up to me.”

That amounts to the Sam Saunders Declaration of Independence. So far, though, the results have not been convincing: in 13 PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour events in 2011, he missed eight cuts.

Regardless, he says he is on the path to permanent improvement.

“I’m 24. I’m better physically and mentally than ever before. I’ve worked hard. I feel good. I’m thrilled to be here in the final stage of Q-School.”

How about exercise?

“I do a lot of biking. Cycling. That’s kind of my thing these days. On the road, I go to the gym and try to stay flexible. I don’t do a whole lot of lifting any more. It doesn’t really help me, I’ve found. When I’m home in Florida, I do between 30 and 50 miles a day (on his bike).”

What does that do for Saunders?

“Endurance. That’s the key. Walking 18 holes is actually nothing.”

Saunders, who concedes he was a distance hound as a junior golfer, has changed his philosophy about tape-measure tee shots.

“The last thing I’m worried about is distance,” he said. “I don’t try to hit it that far. Slowly you learn it’s nice to hit it far, but it’s more important to keep it in play. It took me awhile, but I learned that lesson.”

What else has Saunders learned?

“I don’t take time off. A day or two, now and then. But I’m not the kind of guy who takes a week off or two weeks off. I couldn’t do that.”

And then there’s the range-vs.-course argument.

“Unless I’m working on something, I don’t beat a bunch of balls on the range,” Saunders said. “I go play. I’d rather hit golf shots on the course than on the driving range.”

Would he recommend this method to all golfers?

“Absolutely. I think everybody can benefit from playing more. You can’t exactly duplicate all the different shots on the range.”

Saunders has been in the public spotlight for most of his career, and now he and his golf game are growing up before our eyes. He appears to be humble yet confident. It’s a welcome sight.

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