As a PGA Tour professional, Sam Saunders is no stranger to first-tee jitters. But he's never encountered anything that compares with the situation he faced Tuesday at the memorial service for his grandfather, Arnold Palmer.
Saunders was one of several speakers who eulogized Palmer, who died Sept. 25. He headed to Florida shortly after the ceremony to prepare for the Web.com Tour Championship, where he hoped to have one more chance to keep his card.
While the tournament was canceled Wednesday in advance of Hurricane Matthew, Saunders spoke to media members before that announcement to share some of his emotions from the memorial service.
"More nervous than I've ever been in my life," he said. "More than anything, the company that I was speaking with. I'm a professional golfer, not a professional speaker. So my mindset was, I'll let them do the professional speaking and I'll just try to do my best. I was very fortunate to somehow find the composure up there to say what I wanted to say."
During the memorial, Saunders shared details of a phone call he made to Palmer less than two hours before he died. It was a touching tribute, and one that Saunders explained didn't come from any sort of prepared script.
"I felt the most important thing was to speak from the heart," he said. "I didn't have any paper or notes, and I just went up there and said what I felt needed to be said. I meant every word I said."
With the cancellation of the season's final event, Saunders will return to the Web.com Tour for the 2016-17 season. Despite the demotion, Saunders views his career as an opportunity to carry on the memory of Palmer for future generations.
"Listen, I'm so proud to be Arnold Palmer's grandson. That's something I'm never going to shy away from," he said. "Maybe as a younger man I felt the need to be relevant, the need to have a name of my own, and I do and I always will. But I take great pride in carrying on his legacy, and that's my main focus."