Sam Saunders already knows how to win at Bay Hill, having won the club championship three times. The 27-year-old will be hoping for another chance to hoist the silverware this weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the event named for (and hosted by) his legendary grandfather.
Saunders had previously played in the event on an exemption granted by Palmer, but this year he earned his spot, thanks to a stellar 2014 season on the Web.com Tour and a strong start to his PGA Tour season, including a playoff loss two weeks ago at the Puerto Rico Open. In Thursday's opening round he carded a 2-under-par 70 and admitted that this year's appearance at the club where he grew up feels different.
"It's a spot that's technically I've earned in some way and that feels a lot different for me," Saunders said.
Even though Saunders doesn't share his famous grandfather's last name, most people in golf know his lineage. Of course, his wife wasn't in golf.
Saunders met his wife in Colorado and they dated for a month before she Googled his name – a search that now occurs before a first date – and discovered who his grandfather was, according a New York Times story.
“I told him, ‘I Googled you today.’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah? And what did you find out?’ I said, ‘That you have a pretty famous grandfather.’ And he said, ‘Yes, and I love that it took you so long to find out.’ ”
They married in 2012. Saunders revealed that he almost gave up the game after struggling throughout the 2013 season. He traveled to Palmer's home in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and got advice from Grandpa while working on the back of the driving range. The result was a turn around in Saunders game.
Palmer said he supported his grandson's decision to move to Colorado and start his own life outside of the large shadow Arnie casts at Bay Hill.
When asked to characterize his the dynamic between him and Palmer, Saunders said, "Because I am pursuing the same career that he did so well and for such a long time, he can relate with me on that probably better than anybody else can because he's been through the ups and downs. That's something that I don't think many people think about is they only think about all of his successes, but when I have been struggling he said, "Hey, I know what that feels like, I know what it feels like when you're out on the course and everything is out of control and you just want to go hide", and that was neat for me to have him be able to relate to the bad times because he had so many good ones."