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January 19, 2010

Sam Saunders


DAVE SENKO: Well, Sam, thanks for joining us. Maybe just get us started, talk about how this all came about and this will be your second PGA TOUR event, you played at Bay Hill, a few years ago, maybe just get us started about having the opportunity to play here.
SAM SAUNDERS: Oh, I'm so excited to have the opportunity to be out here. This came about as a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to get me in here. I feel very fortunate to have a sponsor's exemption to play and hope to make the most of it.
DAVE SENKO: Get a chance to talk to your grandfather much about this event before you came out here?
SAM SAUNDERS: We have talked a good bit. We have actually been working together a pretty good amount. I've actually been over to Tradition the last couple days, been practicing with him. And he's given me a pretty good amount of advice on all the courses and he's obviously got a lot of good insight, having won it quite a few times.
DAVE SENKO: Questions?

Q. Obviously you're in as a sponsor's exemption, this week. What's your career path right now?
SAM SAUNDERS: Just trying to play in as many things as I can get in. Any opportunity I have to play, I just want to go play. That's all I really need to do right now is just be out there playing and let my clubs do the talking and hopefully I'll get my PGA TOUR card. And that's the ultimate goal is to get out here on TOUR and have status.

Q. At this point would that include Monday qualifying, this TOUR, Nationwide Tour?
SAM SAUNDERS: Sure. Sure. I've got a few exemptions lined up and we'll see what, how many more I get. And then when I'm not out here playing in this, I'll go Monday qualify for some Nationwide Tours and play on some Hooter's Tour events actually, just to get that four round experience. I want to play in as many four round events, simulate the PGA TOUR as much as I can. Because that experience is definitely invaluable.

Q. You're kind of known a lot as Arnold Palmer's grandson and rather than Sam Saunders. And what, what's your reaction to that?
SAM SAUNDERS: I understand it goes with the territory. Obviously that can get old sometimes, but at the same time it presents me with opportunities like this, to be able to come out here and play. And I've learned how to handle it and hopefully some day I can become a good enough player on my own right to be known as Sam Saunders first and then Arnold Palmer's grandson second other side by side. It doesn't matter.

Q. We mentioned the five wins he had here in this tournament, and winning a tournament out here before that, so he's got six really. So he's spent a lot of time out here. I'm told this may be your first trip out ever to Palm Springs area?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yes, it is, actually. I've never been out here. It's funny, I played in so many different places across the country, but I never have played in the desert. And I like it a lot so far. It's pretty good. You don't see too many courses that are in this perfect condition tee to green. It's unbelievable. The weather -- except for this week.

Q. You don't get this kind of sunshine every place?
SAM SAUNDERS: I live in Orlando, we get a good amount of sunshine, except for it's been pretty cold there lately. But I do love it out here. But, yes, this has been my first trip out and hopefully not the last.

Q. Best piece of advice you've gotten from Arnold?
SAM SAUNDERS: I think it's just to be myself and play my own game. There are a lot of people out here who have tons of advice, some of it good, some of it maybe not so good. I just need to do my own thing and play the game my way and not worry about how other guys are swinging and what everybody else has to say and do it my way and just get it done.

Q. I was looking on your old Clemson bio and it talked about how you want to go into golf course design. Have you ever gone with your grandfather to a course before it's been built or are you worked with him at all on golf course design?
SAM SAUNDERS: Not a whole lot. We talked about it a little and that's something I would like to do later in my career. Hopefully I have a long, successful golf career and can get into the golf course design business later. But it is something I'm interested in.
I didn't have anything to do really with the changes at Bay Hill, but I did watch closely to see what was going on there and obviously that's my home course and I care a lot about how it turned out. It was neat to see how that course went from what it was before to what it is now.

Q. Athletes grow up in a family, ball players or basketball players, obviously they want to do what their dad did. You're around the game so much, did you always want to play golf or did anybody ever pressure you not to play or what was your, you're two years old and say, I want to get out there or what was it like?
SAM SAUNDERS: It was actually quite the opposite. I had never had any pressure from my dad, my grand dad or and either of my parents to make me go out and play.
Of course they encouraged me to get out and hit some balls, but up until I was probably 12 or 13 I enjoyed playing basketball more. I played on all the teams and played AAU basketball actually when I was younger and it was, I was more interested in that.
But then I realized that golf had a better future for me, so I started focusing on that and now I love it and play every day, whether it's an off day or not.

Q. Did you play high school ball, basketball?
SAM SAUNDERS: No, I stopped before then. That's when I started playing golf full-time.

Q. Obviously you went to Clemson, had a nice career there. Could you talk about the decision to go ahead and turn pro over the summer and were you disappointed not to get through the Q-School this year?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, of course. I'd have loved to have gotten my TOUR card this year. But it's not the end of the world. There are plenty of opportunities out there and I feel like there's a lot of great ways to get out here and be successful. Weeks like this for example.
If I do the right thing, with all these sponsor's exemptions that I get, hopefully I can just play my way on. I went to Q-School hoping to get my card, but when it didn't happen I told myself I wasn't going to let it get me down or think, oh, gee, well here is a whole another year shot. That's not the way you have to look at it, in my opinion.

Q. What cost you qualifying for the TOUR? Any particular part?
SAM SAUNDERS: I putted horrible at first stage. I missed by two shots. I putted just horrendously. If I would have putted average I would have made it without even thinking about it.

Q. Was that nerves, the pressure of trying to make it or you just weren't putting well?
SAM SAUNDERS: No, I was very comfortable with the course that we were playing on. I won a high school state championship there when I was a junior in high school, so it was great. I thought, well, perfect, I get to play first stage Q-School on this course.
And I hit the ball fine. Certainly I played well enough to make it. I just didn't putts, I couldn't read the greens, my eyes weren't too good that week and I just wasn't seeing anything very well.

Q. This tournament's not your regular PGA TOUR event, if somebody hasn't already told you that. Obviously it's four days, it's four courses, five days. Different amateurs every day. Some guys like that, some guys go to Abu Dhabi. Have you ever had any kind of experience like that whether it be college or pro?
SAM SAUNDERS: Sure. You play in plenty of pro-ams even in the amateur events growing up. So you learn how to deal with trying to stay patient out there and not worrying about what everybody else is doing. This week is four different courses, but I was able to get out here early enough because I wasn't playing last week and I played all four courses now and gotten to really see them and feel like I know them very well.
As far as playing with three amateurs, that's fine with me. You just got to try to do your own thing and try to be polite, talk to everybody, but focus on the golf as well.

Q. I assume that you know everybody's going to ask you about Arnie.

Q. Are you sort of steeled and you're not going to say, oh, not another question?
SAM SAUNDERS: No. No. A lot of people want to know about him. A lot of people have stories of their interactions with him and I like to hear them. It's interesting, I like to hear how he has helped other people or their golf story about when they played with him or how they met him. It goes with the territory and I'm used to it now and you just have to understand that's part of the deal.

Q. What ways are you similar to your grandfather and what ways are you maybe different?
SAM SAUNDERS: Well I'm finding out we're a lot more similar than I thought we were recently. As far as our golf game goes especially. We have really been working together pretty hard the last month now and not that we didn't before, but I was, I kind of did my own thing before, he was very busy and I'm very busy too, we both travel a good bit. And we weren't working together much. But about a month ago we, I said, I need your help. I said, I want some help. And he came out and watched me on the range and since then we have been really working together hard and I've really enjoyed it.
I've enjoyed seeing what he has to say and seeing how he teaches me versus people in my past have tried to tell me certain things. I can relate to what he says a lot easier. It makes sense to me. If he tried to tell it to somebody else the way he tells it to me, they, it wouldn't work with them probably. But we connect. We're on the same level when it comes to golf. He's been very helpful to me lately. It's great. Always has been too.

Q. Was there ever a time when maybe you were younger that you just didn't want to listen to his advice or wanted to do your own thing?
SAM SAUNDERS: I'm pretty hardheaded, just like him. So there were times that I wanted to do it my way. I think that he kind of created a monster there in me just telling me to do it my own way and not listen to anybody else. I just decided I wasn't going to listen to him too and that I knew it all. But you learn quickly that's not the case. And he's been great, really helping me a lot and we're having fun together too. That's the best thing is that we're really enjoying working together. I think he enjoys it as much as I do.

Q. Seems like a lot of young players have had success at this event the last few years. Is there anything about it that you can tell that makes a young player like you comfortable?
SAM SAUNDERS: I think that the courses set up well for me and some of the young players. I guess that traditionally you would say young guys play maybe a bit more aggressively, some of us hit it longer than some of the other guys out here.
So these courses set up well for that. You can play them aggressively. You want to make a lot of birdies. If you hit an errant shot every now and then or miss a green you have the opportunities to still make birdie or an easier up-and-down. So I think it just fits that aggressive style of play.

Q. Does this groove business affect you? In other words, the whole idea, so you can't hit it sideways 200 yards and take your wedge and knock it back. Has that affected you at all the new grooves?
SAM SAUNDERS: Not too much actually. I like it better out of the fairway. I think that it's good. I think the new groove rule is great. I like what it's done. The golf ball, it still goes just as far. And I don't know if that's necessarily what the goal was to make us hit it shorter, I think it was just trying to put a premium on hitting fairways.
Now this week the greens are softer, the rough is not long, so it's not going to play as big a factor. But on a course where the rough is deep and the greens are hard and fast, certainly you're going to need to hit a lot more fairways.

Q. You have a definitive west coast schedule at this point? Are there other events that you're going to be in?
SAM SAUNDERS: There is one more that I know I'm in, but I'm not, I don't really think I can comment on that yet until it's official. I've got a few more starts. I'll go home after this and then -- I'm just kind of wait to go see how my schedule falls into place. But I expect to get maybe four or five starts out here on the Regular Tour. We'll see where it goes. Hopefully maybe even get up to the maximum amount of seven. But I'm not going to jump the gun here and say anything that may not happen.
Whatever my schedule falls to be, I'll just go play wherever I have the opportunity, wherever I get in that week, I'll go play and if I don't get in anywhere, I'll just go play on the Hooter's Tour or go Monday for a Nationwide Tour.

Q. There's a lot of talk on TOUR this year about guys coming out. Fowler, Lovemark, guys like that. Obviously these are guys that you've competed against and with in tournaments. So do you think they can be successful and does your past experience against them make you confident that you can be out here too?
SAM SAUNDERS: Sure. I played with Rickie at our first -- he debuted at the Nationwide Tour event in Boise and we played together out there. We had a great time. Neither of us made the cut, but we both played okay. I was even, he was 1-over or something like that. And it was great. It was fun to play with a guy that I played in college with out there on the next level. Just the experience out there was great.
I've played, I've known Jamie for a long time. We played together when we were both in 11th grade as in a team event out in Texas and we have kept in touch over the years and we have played practice rounds the last three days together out here.
So it's nice to see your friends out here that you've grown up playing against get to play on TOUR with them now is pretty cool.

Q. I notice you played Augusta. How many times have you played there and what was that first experience like?
SAM SAUNDERS: I've played there three times now. The first time I played was with my grand dad and my dad. Which was probably the most special. That was really neat. I was, I think I was 15 years old. It really is a special place. It's a special place to me just because of my grand dad's history there. I love the course. It is my favorite course I ever played.
Then I've -- the second time I got to play it was really neat. My grand dad and I flew up with Mr. Nicklaus and his oldest son, Michael, and the four of us played. And had a pretty good match that my grand dad and I handled them on. We beat them pretty good.
It was, it turned out to be a long drive contest all day between Michael and myself. So we had a great time.
Then I got to go play it with my golf team. I was at Clemson and we had the opportunity to go down there and play. It's really a special place and I hope to get back there soon.

Q. This might be a difficult question to answer, but how many rounds of golf would you estimate you've played with your grandfather?
SAM SAUNDERS: Oh, not as many as I would have liked to. Like I said, he's busy, I'm busy, we both travel a lot. Over the last five years combined over the last five years maybe 50. So not that much.
But before that when I was younger and I lived at home when I lived in Orlando we played together, when he was there in the winter, we played together every other day. But now we have really started working together a lot more than we ever have in the past and I'm really enjoying that.

Q. Where do you live now?
SAM SAUNDERS: In Orlando. I just got a place that's like five minutes from Bay Hill and I drive there to work every day.

Q. You're hiding Tiger, of course, right?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, that's right.

Q. He was just about to have his tournament when all the stuff happened. I'm wondering, the fact that he lives in Orlando, is every golfer that -- so many guys live there, does everybody ask every golfer about Tiger?
SAM SAUNDERS: I think everybody in the world is asking about it right now whether you're a golfer or not. And whether you're inside on the PGA TOUR and know all the guys or whether you're nobody, I don't think anybody knows much of anything. I certainly know nothing about it. It's kind of a mystery to me and all of us and everybody's just kind of --

Q. Is there gossip? Obviously fans gossip. And the media, we talk. Do the players themselves talk about it or are they more worried about making the next putt?
SAM SAUNDERS: I think everybody talks about it and it's in their mind, in the back of their minds, but I think everyone just hopes that the situation gets handled the best that it can and that Tiger gets back out here. He's great for our game and he's done a lot for golf and I just hope he can make it back out here soon.

Q. Is he still your favorite TOUR player?
SAM SAUNDERS: I don't know. Was he before?

Q. That's what your Clemson bio said.
SAM SAUNDERS: Oh, it did? Well, gee, wow, you've done your research. You know, I don't know. I'm not going to say yes or no to that. My favorite TOUR player is hopefully going to be me, so.

Q. Is it maybe a little bit easier that sometimes you fall under the radar because your last name isn't Palmer? Is that a benefit to you sometimes to be able to do that?
SAM SAUNDERS: I think so. There are times that people don't realize that right off the bat, sometimes it may take them awhile, but I definitely think it would have been different -- I look at like Jack Nicklaus' sons, they probably got a lot more of it than I have. And I know that can be tough.
It is different as well because he's my grand dad, he's not my dad. And I don't live with him. I don't see him every day. We talk a lot and we interact a lot, but I think it's a lot different if it's a grandfather/grandson relationship than a father/son relationship.

Q. As you go it through this week and begin to contemplate your grand dad's history in this event what do you think is going to begin to churn in your mind as to maybe that connection for you here and now?
SAM SAUNDERS: Hopefully it would be winning like he did. But I think he's given me some good advice on all four of the courses that we're playing this week. He's done a couple of them, so he's got a little bit of inside knowledge. I think that -- I'm just going to go out there and enjoy myself, have a good time, play my own game, but I'm sure he'll have some advice for me post round, talk about what I did here, what I did there, maybe change a couple things. I'm just excited to get the tournament started and hopefully he'll be out there watching.

Q. Do you have a specific expectation for your self for this week?
SAM SAUNDERS: I just want to play the best that I can and I would never play in a tournament if I didn't think I was capable of winning. So there you go. You play to win.
DAVE SENKO: Thank you, Sam.
SAM SAUNDERS: Thank you.

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