All eyes are on Arnold Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, at Bay Hill this week as an elite field of Tour pros prepares to play in the first Arnold Palmer Invitational following The King’s passing. The 29-year-old turned pro in 2009 and joined the PGA Tour in 2015. He hasn’t won yet, but came close with a second-place finish at the 2015 Puerto Rico Open, losing to Alex Cejka in a playoff. Here’s five things to know about Saunders.
1. Saunders is Palmer’s grandson
This much we already knew, but did you know that Saunders is the only of Palmer’s six grandchildren to follow in Palmer’s professional golf footsteps? At least, for now: cousins Anna and Will Wears played collegiate golf at Palmer’s alma mater Wake Forest and Loyola University Maryland, respectively.
2. Saunders grew up playing Bay Hill
As a kid, Saunders used to sell lemonade around Bay Hill’s 18th hole to help raise money for the Arnold Palmer Hospital. In high school, he was the club champion, and he also caddied for his grandfather when he played the PGA Tour event held there. At 14, he played it for the first time as a non-competing marker.
3. Saunders qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open using his caddie’s irons
While playing the Monday qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, Saunders decided to use his caddie, Travis McAlister’s, clubs instead of his own. “He has the same irons I used to have, and I decided to use his instead of mine,” Saunders said. He shot 66-66 in the 36 hole qualifier to tie Michael Putnam at the top of the leaderboard.
4. Saunders lost his sense of smell in a scooter accident
In August 2015, Saunders suffered a fractured skull, epidural hematoma, and concussion when he fell off an electric scooter. The pro was lucky, though: his injuries could have been career-ending, but the only thing that was damaged was his sense of smell. “It’s 100 percent gone, which is weird,” Saunders told NBC News in 2015. “Taste is not quite there. But those are things I can live with. I’m very lucky to be as well as I am.”
5. Saunders delivered a touching eulogy at Palmer’s funeral, honoring the man he knew at “Dumpy”
One of the most emotional moments of Palmer’s 2016 funeral was Saunders’ story of a phone call between Palmer and Saunders, one Saunders made, unknowingly, while his grandfather was visiting the President of the United States. “And I said, ‘Why are you answering your phone?'” Saunders recalled. “He said, ‘I wanted to talk to you.’ And that’s what he did. He always wanted to talk to me. He always wanted to be there for us, and he always was.”