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March 6, 2010

Sam Saunders


JOHN BUSH: We'd like to welcome Sam Saunders into the interview room at The Honda Classic after a 1-under par 69.
Sam, thanks for coming by. Quite a start to the round with the eagle on No. 3, birdies on No. 4 and 5. Just comment on the day as a whole if you can.
SAM SAUNDERS: It was tough out there. The course was really playing quite difficult with this wind and smoke that's blowing in here. Got off to a good start like you said, and that kind of helps on a course like this, because bogeys, they are going to happen. If you have a little padding out there, it helps.
JOHN BUSH: Talk about that eagle on No. 3. Take us through that.
SAM SAUNDERS: I just crossed a drive there. Really hit one very long and had 210 to the hole and just kind of hit a smooth 5-iron up there. Got a great bounce and about ten feet from the hole and really straight-in putt and it was quite easy, actually.
JOHN BUSH: Three straight 69s, just comment about your approach for tomorrow's final round.
SAM SAUNDERS: I just want to keep doing the same things I'm doing. I've played real solid every day. Ball-striking has gotten better each round, and hopefully I'll just continue to do what I'm doing, and you know, get hot and stay hot out there.

Q. How bad is it out there? It looks awful, and we go out there for awhile and it seems bad to us. How bad is it for players?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, this lighting has gotten weird, too, with the smoke. There's actually some ash blowing around and it's pretty bad. The wind has picked up and stayed up which surprised me. I didn't think it was going to be this windy today. Obviously 15 through 18 are playing really tough.
That 15th hole is quite intimidating today. You stand on the tee, it's 168 yards, I hit a 5-iron there today, and that's my 200 club. It's playing pretty tough.

Q. Affect breathing at all or anything like that?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, and I wear contacts and my eyes were getting really dry out there. The last hole, I had a hard time seeing that putt; it's so dry, and with stuff blowing around, it's pretty tough.

Q. Obviously you've been getting attention, being the marker for Peter whatever year that was, and on your grandfather's bag at Augusta the last time and all that; do you feel comfortable with all that as you get older and you're becoming your own player? Are you still comfortable being known as "Arnie's grandson?"
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, I've gotten used to it. I like the fact that people want to talk to me. That's great. If that's why, then that's fine, and hopefully some day -- I've said this many times before; that my game will become good enough and I'll become a good enough player that I'll be known as Sam Saunders and Arnold Palmer's grandson. I think I'm getting there, but right now, it's fine. If it's Arnold Palmer's grandson, that's okay. That's kind of the deal. I understand that.

Q. What does it mean for you here on a sponsor's exemption to not only make the cut but be on the top of the leaderboard?
SAM SAUNDERS: It means a lot. A sponsor's exemption, I feel honored to get one. You want to make the most of it and you want to prove that you've earned it and you deserve that spot. I feel like I've done that so far this week, and with a good round tomorrow, hopefully I can put myself in contention to win the tournament. I still feel like I've got a good chance in this thing.
At first, you know, these first few starts out here, I was kind of thinking about, man, I really want to make the cut. Once you -- now that I've kind of got past that, I'm not out there just trying to eke out a good round. I'm watching that leaderboard and I see myself getting up there, and I'm thinking about winning this thing. I'm not really looking at, well, I want a good finish.
I'm trying to get myself in position where I can win and I think with tomorrow, if the course plays tough, you never know, and a good low round early, post something early, you never know what can happen.

Q. How often do you speak to your grandfather?
SAM SAUNDERS: Spoke to him last night on the phone. Called him after the round. He is my only coach. We've been working together really hard for the last few months now and that's been going really well. I think he's enjoyed it. I've enjoyed it and my game has really gotten a lot better since we started working.
I asked him if he was going to come down, if I got myself in position to win, and he said, 'Well, I thought about it, but you know, I want to kind of let you do your own thing and didn't want to bring all that attention that it would."

Q. Would you rather he come down if you were in position? You'd get a big gallery out of it.
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, I would. (Laughter) Sometimes it may be better to just kind of let that be. He wants me to do my own thing and not be worried about, you know, the swarm of people that would be around him, which I appreciate. He's thinking about me when he does that and that's really nice.
He'll be at Bay Hill and I'm playing at Bay Hill, and you know, we'll be able to do that there. So I appreciate the fact that he thought about that before coming down.

Q. How many starts is it for you now?
SAM SAUNDERS: This is my fourth.

Q. And then Bay Hill will be No. 5?
SAM SAUNDERS: That's correct.

Q. You're obviously front-loaded all your exemptions; is there a strategy behind that?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, being as I don't have status out here, try to get them all in early and then make something of it, Top-10 -- if I Top-10 this week, I can go play next week, and still got a few starts left.
So hopefully I make the most of those, but get them out of the way early so I can go play on -- whether it's the Nationwide Tour or the Hooters Tour or whatever I need to go play on and try to get some status out there and earn my way to getting a card out here, whether it's through Nationwide, finishing in the Top-25 on the Money List out there, or, you know, through Q-School.
Hopefully I can get some starts on the Nationwide Tour after my seven out here. Still not going to rule getting a win out here. That will take care of everything, just win one out here and won't have to worry about any of that.
But if I need to go down and play some Nationwide Tour, it's a great tour and it really represents a great opportunity for guys in a position like me, because Top-25, you get in the next week and you get on a little bit of a roll out there, you get status pretty quick.

Q. Just curious what it was like playing with Rocco, who probably played a thousand times with your grandfather. I'm sure he had some stories?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, we had a great time out there. He really made it easy for me. We played together in 2007 when I played as an amateur in Bay Hill at the tournament and we played a practice round together. Have not seen him since then really and playing. He was very complimentary of my game today and extremely nice and made the day a lot of fun for me. It was really relaxing out there and we had a great time.

Q. You obviously had an interesting week last week; what did you learn from that?
SAM SAUNDERS: Honestly I learned more from last week than the previous two starts I had gotten. Last week I got off to that hot start, shot 66 in the first round, and saw myself up there on that leaderboard in the Top-10. And I was in position to be in contention in the tournament, and went out the next day, and got off to a bad start, and it flustered me and I could never get it back. And I had a bad round and missed the cut.
I had a lot of time to think about that before coming here, and thought about what it meant and didn't worry about it, because I'm hitting the ball as well as I ever have. My short game is good. My putting is good.
So I learned more from that than playing consistently like I did at Pebble and pretty consistently like I did at the Hope. So this week, when I shot a good first round, I was much more prepared for how to handle the second round than I was last week.

Q. A Top-10 here gets you in next week, would that be Puerto Rico or Innisbrook?
SAM SAUNDERS: Puerto Rico and the week after is Tampa.

Q. Did that experience last week help today when after your hot start you had a couple of hiccups in there, but then you settled in all down, you didn't let it get out of control.
SAM SAUNDERS: Like I said, this is a tough golf course, and if you can play a round out here without any bogeys, you've done something pretty special, and I got off to a tough start -- or a great start, and then No. 6 is just a brutally tough par 4. I hit a great drive there, long and still had a 5-iron into a back right pin which is just a really tough pin on that green and just kind of double-crossed one there in the water.
But I made a great up-and-down for bogey. That was really one of my keys to the round today was that up-and-down. Because it was a really tough shot, and to save bogey there and walk away was really a victory for me. And then bogeyed the next hole but I didn't let it get to me and just kind of settled into the round and let things happen when they did.

Q. Did the wind pick up at all during the -- it seems like it's been pretty steady, but then again it's different spots on the course. Was it pretty much like this it all day?
SAM SAUNDERS: It might have picked up around when I was playing -- yeah, a little bit early on the back nine, it was blowing pretty hard, and even coming up 18, yeah -- on 18, it was blowing the hardest it blew all day. I had 135 yards for my shot in there and hit a 9-iron and wasn't even close. I had to hit a good 8 to get it there. So a little bit of a miss-club there.
But it really picked up I think, and it's going to be interesting to see how these guys coming down finish. Hopefully the wind will stay like it is.

Q. How have you sort of learned to adjust to it, because especially this course, especially when it's blowing, it's guesswork. I mean, the book doesn't really help you at all, because you'll see shots that you've never -- hardly see anywhere else?
SAM SAUNDERS: That's why we practice and play as much as we do, because golf isn't an indoor sport. You're always going to have different conditions and you just have to learn how to play in the wind. I like playing in the wind. I feel like I'm pretty good at keeping the ball down when I need to and not letting the wind bother you.
Just got to grind it out out there and stay patient, because it will wear you out. It's very tiring mentally to play in wind like this because sometimes you're going to hit good shots that just don't turn out. Today on 14, I absolutely killed a drive there. I had 127 to the hole and had 115 yards to the front and the wind was straight downwind.
I thought about hitting a sand wedge, so hit a pitching wedge and felt I just had to chip it to get it there and as soon as I hit it, the wind switched straight right-to-left and knocked it down and the ball came up short. I hit a good shot. Just happens.

Q. You talked about your grandfather is your other coach; what is that like having a legend as a coach, can you ever talk back to him?
SAM SAUNDERS: I actually think he kind of likes it -- not talk back to him in that sense, but when I respond and don't just kind of cower. I like to ask him stuff and if I'm confused about something, I say it.
He used to always give me a hard time. He would say, "You don't ever listen to me."
Finally I said, "I do listen to you. You may think I don't, but I do listen to you." I think he likes that when I show a little bit of fire. He wants that. He's just trying to give me thick skin.
Last night when I called him, I knew the first thing he was going to say to me wasn't good playing. The first thing he said to me was, "What happened on your last shot on 18 because I hit in the front bunker?" (Laughter).
I said, "I knew you were going to say that." That's just the way he is and I like it. It wouldn't be him if I talked to him and he just patted me on the back all the time. That wouldn't be him and I wouldn't like it.

Q. Has anyone ever told you don't go into golf because of your grandfather; stay away from path?
SAM SAUNDERS: No, I don't think so. I've always loved it and nobody's pushed me into it. I played basketball when I was younger and did all that and was a normal kid growing up. My parents never pushed me. Granddad never pushed me. I felt in love with it on my own.

Q. What do you work on the most with your grandfather?
SAM SAUNDERS: We talk a lot about the mental side of the game and using my head, because as he says to me many times, you've got all the shots, you can hit the ball as far as you want, you can hit any shot you need to. You just have to use that thing between your ears.
He always stresses that with me and gives me a hard time on that a lot when I don't hit a good shot. He says, "It's not because you can't hit that shot. It's just, you didn't use your head." And that's really what we work on the most probably actually.
JOHN BUSH: Let's go through those three birdies. The one on No. 4, take us through that.
SAM SAUNDERS: 4, you really had to think about that hole today because the pin was back right and straight downwind for your second shot. The wind was down and off the right and if you hit a driver down there in the fairway, you've just got no chance on stopping it.
So I purposely hit it way down into the left rough and just hit it hard, so that way I kind of had a better angle in and hit a great drive. I only had 55 yards to the hole. That was from my angle. I probably only had 30 yards to the front of the green, hit a good wedge to about ten feet and made the putt.
5 was about 170-yard shot I guess. Wind was off the right. Just hit a nice, smooth little 7-iron, nothing special. Hit it to about five feet. Made that.
12, good drive there. The wind was off the left, which was really the toughest wind for me, being a drawer of the ball. But I hit a good drive there, cut it with the wind, had 137 yards and it's a tough pin there, really far back right, had to hit a pitching wedge from over the trees to the middle of the fairway and hit it to about 12 feet and made a really good putt there.
JOHN BUSH: Sam, thanks for coming by and play well tomorrow.

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