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March 18, 2015

Sam Saunders


MARK STEVENS: Like to welcome Sam Saunders.  Sam, this has got to be a special week for you coming to the site of your grandfather's tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
You're also coming off a playoff loss two weeks ago at Puerto Rico.  You got a lot of good things happening right now.
Talk about the last couple of weeks and then your thoughts coming into Bay Hill and then we'll have some questions.
SAM SAUNDERS:  Very good.  Yes.  Obviously very excited to be here.  Still feels like home here for me and more importantly it feels good coming in off of some good golf.
I got off to a slow start this year but to come into this week feeling like I'm playing well and my game is at a point where I feel like I can contend to win a tournament is very important to me.
MARK STEVENS:  Questions.

Q.  Sam, considering you grew up on this golf course and your family history, when you play this event, do you feel more comfort or more pressure?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Well, obviously I'm comfortable with the golf course but it is a busy week for me.  This is one out -- this is the only event during the course of the year where it's as crazy as it is for me, you know, not just because of attention on the course but I've got family and friends here and a lot of people that want to get together and see me and it's tough.
I'd love to see everyone and be able to hang out with all my old friends but at the end of the day I'm still here to try to do my job and, you know, that's No. 1 goal and that's what I'm trying to focus on this week and we're staying off property and kind of able to do our own thing this week and keep things low key and quiet with my wife and kids, and my parents are a great help to me here this week and making sure that we have everything we need but also letting us kind of do our own thing.

Q.  I'm just wondering the relocation to the central part of the country and all that, was any element of that an attempt to sort of become your own man and establish your own identity and to sort of, no pun intended, get out from under the umbrella?
SAM SAUNDERS:  You know, sure.  I just kind of needed a change of scene in my life and my career was going okay living here, playing on the Web.com Tour but I still hadn't really, you know, broken through and gotten to the PGA TOUR, and then moving out to Colorado and getting married and starting my life out there, it did feel good.
It felt good to have my own identity a little bit more and make my own friends out there and, you know, start my family on my own out there away from everyone else and be able to just kind of do our thing, and Fort Collins has been a great place for me. 

Although the weather obviously is not ideal for making it to the Tour, I think the quality of life shows that I get more enjoyment and when I do get to practice I get more out of it.  So, I've been able to actually get better since I moved out there.

Q.  Sam, there has been a lot of talk so far about the conditions of the course, the greens specifically.  You probably played this course more than anybody in the field.
What are your impressions of the conditions?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Yeah, Adam, thanks for asking me that.
I have a lot to say about that and I'd like everyone to know that, you know, things happen and there have been many tournaments over the course of the years on the PGA TOUR where some of the best courses in the world struggle and, you know, nobody is exempt from that and we had a tough winter here, kind of a perfect storm of things that could go wrong with the greens and the grass, particularly kind of was at the end of its life span which a lot of people don't understand.
Everybody keeps coming out with all these new grasses.  Emerald dwarf we have on these greens, unfortunately its life span just came up.
They're going to be fine this week.  The greens are actually going to roll perfect for the tournament, I think, and they may not look the best but it's still going to put on a great show and, you know, the guy who plays the best golf is going to win the tournament.
Going forward we've kind of learned a lot of good things about the grasses and what we need to do here to have the best greens that we can and we will be redoing the greens right after the tournament and putting in a new grass and we'll have a new program going forward that I think will lead to perfect greens next year and many years coming forward.

Q.  Sam, couple of the golfers yesterday and over the years I've kind of just heard of the same thing from them about your grandfather, just kind of saying how he was the first rock star and how they always appreciated his humbleness.
Can you just kind of echo that what you kind of picked up from the rest of the golfers in the locker rooms and even little stories or something that you can kind of add to that?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Well, you know, certainly all the players out there have a lot of respect for him and I think look up to him because, you know, as far as how to handle yourself as a professional and how to handle the media and how to handle, you know, the life of being a potential star on the PGA TOUR, I don't think anybody ever handled it as well as he did, and lot of guys try to emulate that but nobody so far I think has been able to handle fans and media and all of the things that go along with being a superstar in golf, you know.
It's a tough act to follow with him and lot of guys do a very good job out here but it's a different world now.  There's a lot more to do, there's a lot more to try to be aware of and, you know, as far as the respect for him it's really nice to see.  It's nice to see all the players who come here and I go up to each and everyone ever them and I say, "Hey, thanks for being here.  My granddad may not be able to tell you but I promise you it means a lot more to him than you probably think it does."
Q.Sam, how many times were you the club champion here?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Two, three times, I think so.

Q.  That brings to this:  16, 17, 18, the finishes holes, how good are those holes?
SAM SAUNDERS:  They're wonderful and what I like about them is that you've got 16 which other than the two years that we played it as a par 4 it's a very -- now it's back to it's normal par 5.  It's a great hole because it's a scoring opportunity.  If you hit a good drive there you can hit a mid-iron into the green and have a eagle chance.
I think a guy coming down the stretch -- everybody wants to see that.  You want to see the guy have an opportunity to make a big move and, you know, if he does make an eagle or birdie and takes the lead or catches up, then he's faced with just a brutal hole in 17 where you have to hit a really good, solid shot and kind of play the hole smart and it's not a hole that you would want to have to make birdie on because a lot could go wrong there.
Then obviously 18 speaks for itself.  That's a hole where you've seen so many guys win or lose it on that one.  I think it's the perfect finishing hole here, whether you're need to go make a par or birdie.
Unfortunately, seen some guys have a disaster on the hole and lose the tournament right there.  It's a great finishing stretch and will certainly I'm sure determine the winner this week as well.

Q.  Sam, you had that rough patch where you missed a few cuts in a row.  I now you're pleased with the fact you didn't panic and stayed the course.
What's kind of clicked in the last couple weeks with your game?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Yeah.  You know, it was a slow start but I kept telling myself all along I'm playing well.  I really felt I was playing good golf and there's not a big difference out here between missing a few cuts in a row and having a chance to win, obviously, because that's what I did as well.
I started to make a few putts and I started to see the work that I was putting in payoff and, you know, shot some good scores even coming out of Peeble, I missed the cut there but I shot 69 at Spyglass, 69 at Peeble on Saturday.
Still missed the cut but those are two good tough courses and that kind of gave me a lot of confidence.
Then I came down and did the Monday qualifier for Honda and shot 67 there, missed out by a couple shots and then just I carried that -- I said hey, even though it's a Monday qualify, even know though I missed cut these are good rounds under par on good golf courses.
I just kept that momentum going and I made a switch to a different putter and that was kind of based on the Monday qualifier actually my clubs never showed up and I borrowed a putter from Chase Wright, a friend of mine that plays on the Web.com Tour.
It felt so good I copied it and built one exactly the same way and that gave me a lot of confidence in Puerto Rico and sure enough things started to go right way.  Last week as well kind of carried over that good play.

Q.  Sam, how would you characterize your relationship with Arnold?
SAM SAUNDERS:  That's a broad question (laughter).  We have a very good relationship.  We have a very unique relationship as well.  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 and 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, you know, be able to relate to the bad times because he had so many good ones.
I'm able to talk to him probably like nobody else can and we get along pretty well.  We keep in touch and I try to make a phone call to him at least once every other week and let him know how I'm doing and he's always there to help if needed but he also understands that I need to do my own thing and he's very good about letting me just follow my own path.

Q.  Quick follow, do you remember when you first realized that he was kind of a big deal?
SAM SAUNDERS:  You know, I think it was probably when I started to play in some of the bigger amateur events, whether it be the Sunnehana Amateur, Western Am, some U.S. Amateurs and Juniors.
I started to see the history of the game more and read some of the books and I always knew that he was something special but until I kind of started to play in some of these big events myself and comprehend how difficult it is to win golf tournaments and make the career that he did, that's when I really appreciated, you know, how good it was.

Q.  Speaking of like really broad questions, there's been a lot of chatter this week about my favorite Arnie moment.  What is yours?
SAM SAUNDERS:  We've had some good ones.  Honestly it would probably be -- it's a very personal private one for me but I was up in Latrobe when I was really struggling after 2013, I understand lost my Web.com status, my wife was about to give birth to our second child and I didn't have a job and I had to go back to Q-School and I was seriously considering doing something else, and -- because I didn't know how I was going to, you know, make a living, and I was there kind of on a need to go basis and we were working together on the back of the range and just the two of us out there and he told me what I needed to do but he also said to me, "If I were you, I would be doing the exact same thing you're doing as far as moving somewhere else, getting married, starting your own life" and that meant a lot to me that he, you know, supported the decisions that I had made and that I had kind of gone out and done my own thing.

Q.  Sam, at Humana this year you talked about how great it is to be a PGA TOUR member, have your own number.
You also talked about it just now you have to go through the qualifying at Honda after the second reshuffle down in the 40s.
Just share the story how hard it is to that status to keep getting a start and also when you leave -- when you left the airport in San Juan, I'm sure you were you disappointed.
How much of it was a relief that you're going to be ranked higher in terms of FedExCup and also re-ranking the next time around?
SAM SAUNDERS:  To the first part of your question playing out of the Web.com category but being a card carrying member on the PGA TOUR, I wasn't quite prepared for -- and nobody can tell you what it's like until you're there and I didn't quite understand the whole idea of not getting into tournaments.
You know, you kind of think I've got my PGA TOUR card, I'm just going to play -- obviously excluding the invitational and the Majors and now the World Golf Champion events, I figured I'd get in most every tournament.
Unfortunately we all know I got off to a rough start and find myself not getting in tournaments.  That was very frustrating because they don't really prepare you for that.  They don't tell you the reality of hey, it's tough and just because you have your card doesn't mean you're going to get any starts.  There are plenty of other guys in the category are in a lot worse shape and gotten less starts and will continue to struggle to get into events.
You know, that's frustrating.  But at the end of the day I played myself into the position that I have been in but now going forward things will be better.
But, you know, you certainly have to play well and play well early in those fall events and those are so important.  It's tough because you come off the Web.com after playing 25 events and I was excited but also exhausted and it was great to be playing those four, foyers five PGA TOUR events but I kind of look too far ahead and don't realize how important it is to play well in those because they set you up for the entire regular season out here and a lot of guys, you know, you can take that for granted and now it's a tough spot.
But, you know, now to Puerto Rico.  To go there and finally have a good week and get some FedExCup Points, move up the money list a lot and know after Houston when we reshuffle I'll be back into pretty much most all of the tournaments, that was a great feeling because it was going to be a real struggle if I didn't do something good there or this week when I knew I was going to get a start and/or Tampa last week.  It was huge for me.
I really wasn't at all disappointed leaving Puerto Rico because I was so fortunate to be in that playoff in the first place and Emiliano missed a short putt and Jon Curran made a little bit of a lip-out there on the last hole.  They played great golf.  All the guys in the playoff had a great week.
I was just fortunate to be there and I did have an opportunity to win it there I felt like in the playoff but, as I said before, I was happy for Alex and it was such a great experience and what's exciting for me is to know that next time I'm in that position I'll know what it feels like and hopefully handle it the right way.

Q.  Only one qualifier you have to go through?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Monday qualifiers.  I borrowed my caddy's irons and shoes.  Shot 67 and didn't get in.  That was disappointing.
I really wanted to play at Honda.  I one as a junior golfer there, my last junior tournament I played in.
One of my early PGA TOUR starts I finished 17th there.  It was a place I had a lot of good memories.  Disappointed to not get in there, move forward from that and made a great week in Puerto Rico and now feel like a lot of good things came out of that.

Q.  As far as playing this course, do you recall how old you were when you first went out there, and any particular memories of that round and can you take an approximate guess how many times you actually played this course?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Growing up here as a little kid I played the Charger 9 way before I ever even played the championship course which is our executive 9 holes over there but is a full 9 holes of golf.  It's a great, great 9 holes.
That's where you know as kids we were allowed to go play.  We just called it the big course.  We were allowed to go play the big course but it was usually had to be with a parent or somebody else and so we would just go carry our clubs over on the Charger.  That's where I learned to play more.
Then, you know, once I kind of got about 7th grade and started -- I started playing on the high school golf team, we started playing the main course over here and it was great.
But even when I was still living here in my early 20s, I spent a lot of my time over on the Charger 9.  That's where I did most of my practice.
But anytime we get the weekend games going we get a good group of guys and go out and play the main course.  I can't remember really the first time age-wise I played it.

Q.  Back to Colorado for a second.  Why Fort the Collins and has your grandpa been there to visit?
SAM SAUNDERS:  My wife was in Fort Collins when I met her out there and I obviously fell in love with her but I also fell in love with the town.  It's just a great place and has been a wonderful place to live and it reminds me -- the neighborhood we live in reminds me of my childhood.
I grew up in a neighborhood here over in Windermere where there were tons of kids all the time.  You get back from school and go play with all your buddies and we're outside all the time and we have that in the neighborhood I live in now in Fort Collins for our kids and I think that's really neat and it's important to me that they have a good childhood there and it's a perfect place for that.
No, my granddad hasn't been out to Fort Collins yet.  But hopefully I'll get him out there soon.

Q.  Sam, you're a rookie this year but you have a lot of experience playing in this particular event.
What is your best memory from playing here at Bay Hill in previous tournaments and what do you think the crowds will be like for you this week?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Well, hopefully they're big because I'm playing well and they're big because I'm teeing off late on Sunday.
It's going to be -- I can't believe how many people were out here yesterday for a Tuesday.  It's unreal.  Looks like we're going to have a huge turnout and it's so great to have 1 through 5 in the world here.  That is really cool.
I actually went up to Adam Scott yesterday on the range and just said hello and told him, "Thank you for being here and hope you come back for many years," and it's so important that those guys show.up.  That's why we'll have such a big turnout.
As far as my best memory of playing in the tournament, oh, man, I mean last year was great because I played really solid the first three days and even though Sunday was a little bit -- I didn't play terrible, I just never got anything going and shot a couple over-par.
Hitting some of the shots I hit, you know, last year, I kind of felt like I was at another level in my game.  It's years before I had gotten spots, I obviously made some cuts and I finished I think 50th one year, 40th one year or 30th.  Last year I finished 40th or around there.
But last year I definitely had the most control of my game and up until Sunday I was somewhat in contention in the tournament and just feeling that and feeling comfortable out there, that was my best memory of playing here was being there on the weekend and really feeling good about where I was and feeling like I had a chance to win the tournament.
MARK STEVENS:  One more.

Q.  Sam following up on that, considering your current form and obviously your knowledge of this golf course, do you feel like this week is maybe the best opportunity for you to contend compared to years past?
SAM SAUNDERS:  Absolutely.  You know, based on yes, physically I'm playing well right now and I feel good about my game but mentally, you know, I've got a lot of confidence coming off the last couple of weeks but even if I hadn't been -- you know, even if I didn't have a great finish last week, I have a PGA TOUR card now.
I know it's still an exemption here this week but there's a new sense of belonging and, you know, it's not an unrestricted exemption.  Web.com exemption.  It's a spot that's technically I've earned in some way and that feels a lot different for me and based on the way I've been playing lately, I feel like, you know, the level of comfort I have on this course, absolutely.
If I just stay calm an stay patient I feel very good about my game and hopefully I'm fortunate enough to have a chance to win on Sunday.  That's what I'm here for.
MARK STEVENS:  Thank you for your time, Sam.  Best of luck this week.

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