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March 23, 2010

Sam Saunders


MARK STEVENS: We would like to welcome Sam Saunders to the interview room. Sam in his last event out, he finished T-17 at The Honda Classic. He played here in 2006, unfortunately missed the cut, but I'm sure gained some valuable experience.
Maybe if you could start off talking about your last time out here and your expectations coming into this week.
SAM SAUNDERS: The last time out here was a long time ago. It feels a lot longer than only a few years. But I was young; I didn't really have a feel of what I was doing. I was a good player and had a lot of talent but just didn't know how to manage my game well. Now with the experience I've gained here playing in a few TOUR events that I have, I definitely feel like I'm in much better position to contend and win tournaments.
MARK STEVENS: There were some renovations recently to the course; if you want to kind of give your thoughts about that and then we'll take some questions.
SAM SAUNDERS: I think they are great. Obviously they happened this summer and my granddad is involved with that, my dad and myself a little bit. I was watching it all kind of take place. I didn't have really anything to do with the changes but obviously I was quite interested in them and I think everything turned out great.
The course is wonderful. All of the new bunkers look great. It defines the course better. The greens are bigger, a little bit flatter but better quality grass. They are going to roll better throughout the year for us when it's not just the tournament, and it needed to be done. The greens needed to be redone. Some of them were a little bit too undulated for a Florida golf course and just didn't really fit with the rest of the style of the course.
So I think all around, the changes are awesome. I think the guys are going to rave about it this week.

Q. This is your fifth?

Q. So you have two more coming. What do you think as far as the summer goes; are you going to try and go find a mini-tour and put your head down and play week-to-week or Monday qualify? Assuming you don't do something crazy here and earn your card.
SAM SAUNDERS: Well, I hope that's not crazy. I wouldn't like to consider hopefully getting a win in these next three something crazy but that would be great obviously. After this, after my next three starts, if I haven't gained status, what I'll hopefully do is get a couple of Nationwide exemptions or go Monday for them.
You know, you Top-25 out there, you get into the next week. I feel like where I am with my game right now, I shouldn't have any problem making cuts out there and Top-25s and get on a little bit of a hot streak, and before you know it, you have status, and you're a full-time player on the Nationwide Tour and hopefully through that, I'll get my PGA TOUR card next year.

Q. I apologize if you've been asked this before, but at Honda, I think you made 68,000 for finishing 17th, and they made a point of mentioning that Arnold Palmer's biggest check on the PGA TOUR was 50,000. Did you mention that to him? Did you actually have fun?
SAM SAUNDERS: He actually mentioned it to me before I did him. He looks at things like that and he's very aware. That was pretty funny that that was the case. Just goes to show you how far along golf has come popularity-wise, sponsorships. There's so much money to make out here, it's unbelievable. I think I remember my granddad saying the purse out here, the total purse in the first tournament was a 100,000. And 10th place gets 100,000 now, over 100,000. So it's a $6.4 million purse. So just amazing the amount of money, how fast it's grown over the years.

Q. I wondered how conscious you are playing here with the crowd being different. Obviously Honda people knew and you were interested in you and so on, but here it's obviously going to be on a different level, is that something that excites or daunts you in any way?
SAM SAUNDERS: It's exciting. I like having a big crowd out there I guess; whether or not I have one, we'll see. If I play well, that will be the case. Doesn't bother me at all.
When you're out there you have to focus on the golf and do your thing and not really worry about what's going on outside the ropes. And I've got a great caddie in my best friend, Colby, and he does a great job of really keeping me just relaxed out there. You know, we have a good time and just have fun.

Q. Did you think it was important for you to get a tournament like Honda, that level and that level of attention under your belt before you came here with all of the extra attention because of your family connections?
SAM SAUNDERS: Absolutely. Any time you can play well out here and gain that experience, regardless of what the next event is, is extremely helpful. I feel like I've gotten better every week I've played out here and I think I've learned something different from each event.
The Bob Hope, my first, I played a whole lot better than I scored. I hit the ball great that week. Everything was going well. I just didn't score well, and I didn't manage my game as well as I should have.
Pebble Beach, I didn't hit the ball well at all. I really hit the ball poorly and I scored well there. I got a lot out of it that week and made my first cut technically and that was a big step for me.
Phoenix, obviously I was hitting the ball well, everything felt good and I shot 66 the first round and was near the lead, and then just really got flustered the second day after a bad start and I had not had that happen. I really had not gone out there and just had a horrible start, and it definitely -- I learned more from that week than any other.
And then to go down to Honda and put together what I had learned at every event and put it all together for four rounds and for a whole week, it felt great. And now I feel like I'm ready to take that next step and put myself in contention to win tournaments.

Q. Where do you feel you are with your game right now?
SAM SAUNDERS: Feels great. I've been hitting the ball well for -- ever since the Bob Hope. It's gotten better every week. I hit the ball the best at Honda that I have and my putting has been really consistent and solid throughout the four events that I've played in so far. And short game is good, so I really am confident and I feel more and more comfortable out there on the course every day.

Q. When did the light bulb go on when you were a kid and you realized that this is what you wanted to do? Can you remember back that far? Have you ever thought anything different?
SAM SAUNDERS: Absolutely. When I was -- I've said this many times. When I was younger, I played basketball. I played all the other sports growing up. I was a normal kid.
I played basketball pretty seriously. I played AAU ball until I was 12 or 13, which wasn't that old, but to me I thought that's what I wanted to do. I thought if I was tall enough and good enough, that I would play basketball, because I was -- I was 12 and 13 years old and I was 5'10, 5'11, bigger than everyone else. And then everyone else caught up to me and I kept playing golf and I really started to enjoy it and started playing in some tournaments and I just realized that's what I wanted to do. Been playing pretty much every day since.

Q. Still living at home?
SAM SAUNDERS: With mom and dad? No. I got a place. I live actually with my caddie, Colby, and another one of the employees here, Fred Gilbert, the three of us have a place a couple miles down the road, condo-type deal. It's good.

Q. Your average day on the range with your granddad helping you, what's it like?
SAM SAUNDERS: It's fun. I enjoy being out there with him. We talk a lot about other stuff than just golf.
I'm very comfortable with him to the point where I feel like I can pretty much talk to him about anything. I can say whatever I want to. It's not an intimidating relationship like it used to be to me sometimes, because he's not -- he used to be really hard on me and tough on me, and he still is, in a good way, but now it's more comfortable.
I think he's enjoyed working with me as much as I have with him. We really like to get out there and hit balls and talk about the game and talk about what I'm doing, and I try to get a little bit about what he did and how he approached it, and it's very similar. I'm beginning to see that we have a lot of similarities, and I like the way he played the game.
It's not as -- he always says, "My dad told me to just go hit it hard and go find it." Yes, he did that to a sense, but it wasn't that simple. Everybody thinks he just played with no thought process at all, and I have to tell you, it's not true at all. You don't win as many tournaments as he did just hitting it hard and going and finding it.

Q. Similarities, how?
SAM SAUNDERS: The way we swing the golf club; the way we approach -- the way we see the game. I am a very visual/feel player. Somebody was asking me today what I do in my practice rounds. I'm not one of the guys that goes out there and matches out every single green and writes down every single number and writes down every target off every tee.
I can see and I can take you through whether it's this course that I know like the back of my hand or a course that I go play for the first time; the next day, I can visualize every tee shot where I want it to go, and I visualize the shot that I see happening. And I don't need to write it down.

Q. Less technical?
SAM SAUNDERS: A lot less technical. We see the shot that you want to hit and you hit it. It's really that simple.

Q. When you're having those sessions about rise and so on, how often is it that he comes to you and tells you what you're doing wrong or what you're doing right, and how often do you go to him and say, can you help me out with this?
SAM SAUNDERS: It's really pretty even. He always comes out and tries to take an interest in what I'm doing. Lately the last few months we have started working together a lot more consistently, and any time that he's in town and I'm here, we always get together and he takes a look at it. Sometimes it will be -- he will just say, "It looks good. Just keep doing what you're doing. Remember the things that we've talked about and do it."
Other times, really, I'll be hitting balls and I'll just hit one or two loose ones and he'll say, you know, "You're not doing what we talked about." Keep doing it and don't fall back to your old tendencies, basically.

Q. Has that relationship always been like that from when you first picked up a club or has it changed over the years?
SAM SAUNDERS: It's changed really within the last year, within the last -- ever since I left college and came back home and started really working hard on playing golf professionally, it's changed.
I went to him one day and I said, "I really want your help." It was well before the Bob Hope. I said, "I want your help and I want you to actually come out and work with me hard, don't just tell me to slow down. Get a little more in-depth with me," and he did. We went out there and really worked hard on what I was doing and tried to come up with my own style of play of the game.
He put a lot of it on me. It's not like he can tell me exactly how to play the game. He said, "You need to figure out your own style and develop it and stick to it and don't listen to anybody else -- but me."

Q. So in golfing terms, he's changed from being just granddad into a coach more?
SAM SAUNDERS: Exactly. He's still my granddad, but I also look to him for advice on my golf game and the way I approach it mentally and physically. He really helps me out in a lot of ways, all aspects of my game.

Q. Has that made your issue are relationship that much better I would think? You can relate to him on about 13 different levels now.
SAM SAUNDERS: I feel like we are much closer now than we were a year ago. Part of that was because I was gone. I didn't see him that much. It was hard. I always tried to keep in touch over the phone, but time goes by and you're up at school and sometimes you just don't do it. I'd go a month sometimes without talking to him, and I didn't like that and I don't think he did, either. I think he wants me to seek out him for advice, and I needed to do that. And I like doing that.
Every week now, whether I'm playing here or wherever, I talk to him on the phone before every tournament I play in, not necessarily every day, but I talk to him at least once a week now.

Q. Are you comfortable enough in the relationship where you can give him the needle back a little bit?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, and I think that's kind of been part of -- he likes that. He likes when you show some toughness and that's kind of what he's -- when he used to be hard on me, I would kind of back down and be afraid to say anything.
I would never say anything back to him in a mean way or in a disrespectful way, but he likes me to step up and kind of show that I've got some guts and not be afraid to shoot something right back at him. He likes that. He want me to be tough and he always tries to toughen me up.

Q. How much is it in your mind, all this, when you're out there? When you talk to some athletes who are the sons or grandsons of some famous people, they are immediately thinking what's he going to say or how are we going to discuss that. Is it that much inside you?
SAM SAUNDERS: Not really while I'm out there on the course. I try to -- if I hit a bad shot, I try to think about what I did wrong and what we work on and what I need to do to keep that from happening again.
But it's kind of -- I know what I'm doing, and if I hit a bad shot, I know what I've done, and a good shot, the same thing. So I just try to think about the things that we work on together and apply them on the golf course.
MARK STEVENS: Thank you very much, family, good luck this week.

End of FastScripts

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