As Arnie’s grandson, the weight of expectations can be heavy, but Sam Saunders is forging his own path

December 13, 2017

When did you decide to become a professional golfer?

Probably in high school, when I was really starting to get pretty good at golf. I loved it. I excelled at a young age, and I thought, you know, I think I’d like to play professionally. It wasn’t because I wanted to follow in my granddad’s footsteps. I just really love the game and felt that I might be good enough at it to some day be a pro.

You’ve played on the PGA Tour for the last three seasons, but this year was your most consistent and successful to date, capped by an incredible 59 at the Tour Championship, which secured your Tour card for the 2017-18 season. Have you made any specific changes to your game?

I care more about winning now and less about just making cuts or trying to establish myself. I feel like I’ve been out here long enough to show that I’m a decent player, certainly not a world-beater or anything like that, but a guy who’s earned his way out here. Hopefully I’ll be able to play out here for a long time, but when it’s time to move on to something else, I also hope I can do it of my own accord.

Arnold Palmer’s passing was deeply affecting for everyone in the golf world. Do you feel even more pressure to perform and succeed now that he’s gone?

No, honestly, I don’t. I think about him all the time. I obviously do my best to make him proud and to make my whole family proud, but I play for me. I don’t play out there for anybody else. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone.

What would a successful career look like for you?

I would certainly love to try to make it into the Top 50 in the world at some point. I’ve played in two U.S. Opens, but I’d love to play in the Masters, the Open Championship and the PGA, and to have at least one win on the PGA Tour. If I can do that, when I decide to move on to things other than golf, I’ll be satisfied.

So you’ve already started planning your post-golf life?

There will be a point when I decide that I don’t want to play anymore. But there’s a difference [between] quitting and moving on, because I feel like I have value in other places, and I feel like I’m more than just a golfer. I enjoy other things. I’d love to design golf courses. And most importantly, I love being around my family. Plus, the travel is tough.

What would you say is the biggest difference between Arnie the grandfather and Arnie the public figure?

I’ve said it before: He really was authentic. He really was the same guy. Most people aren’t like that, especially superstars. I got to see him in his sweats. I got to go to breakfast with him and just watch him when he wasn’t around other people. Little things, like paying cash for breakfast at the little diner in Latrobe and just leaving a normal $4 or $5 tip, with the waiter or waitress not even knowing who he was. And I think that’s what was neat for me, just to see him be a normal person. He wasn’t different to anyone that he ever came across, and that was so impressive to me.

Your wife famously had to Google you to discover that you’re actually Arnold Palmer’s grandson. Did you Google her?

Gosh, I don’t remember now, it’s been a few years. But I probably did. I guess we live in an era now where you might as well, just to make sure she doesn’t have a crime record or anything like that. [Laughs]

You have your own workshop and like to tweak the specs on your clubs. Done anything drastic lately?

Well, it’s funny — the better you play, the less you tinker. So this year, I don’t know if I did anything, actually. A lot of times, it’s just regripping my clubs and little things like that. Because today’s golf clubs are a little bit more sophisticated, it’s a bit more scientific now. It’s above my pay grade.

Is it true that your alligator headcover is made from one you caught?

Yeah. I went hunting down in Florida and got a ten-and-a-half-foot gator. It wasn’t just for sport—we used everything. I ate the meat, I used the leather, and I’ve got his head at the house, although my wife makes me hide it above the garage. I can’t display it proudly above the fireplace like I’d like to.


The best advice I ever got from my grandfather is to talk less and listen more. I think about that all the time. We live in a world now where everybody feels the need to talk so much. I try to talk less. You really can’t get into a whole lot of trouble by just listening. And when you do speak, make sure your words have value. I like to listen to what other people have to say and to try to learn from them.