ORLANDO, Fla. – Sam Saunders left college early to turn pro and wasn’t having much success, so he went back to his roots. He decided to seek out advice on his swing and how to manage his game from his grandfather.
It’s not unusual for a player to seek out his grandfather, especially one who brought him into the game.
But not everyone’s grandfather is Arnold Palmer.
The 22-year-old Saunders sought out Palmer before the Bob Hope Classic, and while the instruction was far-reaching, the advice was simple. Palmer told him to find his own style, and “don’t listen to anybody else but me.”
He tied for 17th at the Honda Classic three weeks ago, his best finish. Saunders earned $68,444, which was more than Palmer’s biggest paycheck in his PGA Tour career.
“He actually mentioned it to me before I did,” Saunders said. “He looks at things like that and he’s very aware. That was pretty funny.”
Palmer gave his grandson an exemption to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
They don’t swing the same way. Saunders doesn’t hitch up his pants before every shot, although he does take after his grandfather with fearless play. On the final hole of the Honda Classic, Saunders tried to hit driver off the deck. It ended badly, but the King took notice of his bold shot and could only smile.
“I have to admit that whatever anybody else thinks, I sort of had a big grin on my face when he pulled the driver out on 18,” Palmer said. “I was very proud of him doing that.”
Palmer also was thrilled when Saunders came to him for help. And he apparently wasn’t kidding when he told his grandson not take anyone’s advice but his.
“I started Sam playing golf many years ago, and he’s done his own thing pretty much through the years up until he came and said, ‘Would you work with me?’ That was something that I had hoped would happen,” Palmer said. “He is really playing and swinging very well, and he’s doing pretty much what I’ve advised him to do. He’s stopped getting outside advice.
“I remember my father saying, ‘When you go out on the tour, you just listen to everyone that you talk to out there, and they will help you. They will help you get back here to Latrobe and drive tractors.”’
Palmer waited for the laughter to subside before concluding his story.
“I said that to Sam,” he said. “All you need to do is go out and get all that advice you can out on the tour, and you can probably get a job at Bay Hill working on the grounds or something like that. But he’s been really good.”
ERNIE ON TIGER: No player has been more critical about Tiger Woods during his return to golf than Ernie Els, who said that Woods was being “selfish” by making his first public comments on the Friday of the Match Play Championship.
Els said Wednesday he is weary of taking questions about Woods.
“It’s very difficult to talk about Tiger Woods, as I know him as a golfer and a pretty good friend,” he said. “It’s basically affected a lot of lives on tour, as well, because of the constant questioning that we have to answer about a fellow player’s private life.”
Els has not been critical of the sex scandal that got Woods into this mess, only how he has taken attention away from golf with the timing of his announcements or interviews.
And while he stood by his comment from Match Play, he added a twist.
“We had to play a tournament and I was maybe selfish from my point of view that all I wanted to do was play a golf tournament instead of talking about his personal life,” Els said. “That’s basically what I meant by that. I felt that Monday (after Match Play) would have been great. Friday wasn’t great for us.
“So maybe I was selfish. Call me selfish,” he said. “That’s maybe where I’m coming from. And now, again, questions keep coming. We cannot give you insight because we don’t know. I’d love everybody to stop asking questions about Tiger and his personal life. That’s his life. Go ask him.”
That time is coming.
CAPTAIN BY EXAMPLE: Colin Montgomerie has not finished in the top 10 since being named Ryder Cup captain for Europe, and in his only three starts this year, he tied for 60th in Abu Dhabi and missed the cut in his other two.
He is playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational on an exemption. Montgomerie, who is No. 287 in the world ranking, flew to Houston to work with his college coach, Paul Marchand. His focus is on the Ryder Cup, but he still wants to win to set an example.
“I have a goal that I would love to win before the Ryder Cup starts,” Montgomerie said. “I’d like to stand in front of my team at the opening ceremony as a tournament winner myself this year. That’s a goal, and I’m working toward that.”
DIVOTS: Eight of the 13 winners on the PGA Tour are among the top 30 in the world ranking. … Colin Montgomerie said the best way to find playing partners for Tiger Woods at the Masters is to ask for volunteers. Would he volunteer if he were playing? “Yes, I would volunteer, yes,” he said. “I think it would be very, very exciting, very exciting to see him come back.” … Camilo Villegas, who made a round trip to Colombia the week he won the Honda Classic, finally caught up on his rest by going back home to Colombia for seven days. How to rest? He rode his bike.