Palmer To Play With Grandson in FatherSon

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The well-behaved yet eager pack of fans surrounding Arnold Palmer as he walked off the 18th green thrust hats, photos and balls for signing. The autographs proved that even with his last victory far in the past, the 74-year-old Palmer remains one of golf's biggest draws.
 
That's why fellow golf great Lee Trevino thought it was a shame Palmer couldn't take part in one of the pros' most cherished events - the yearly tournament pairing fathers and sons. Palmer has two daughters but no male offspring, so he couldn't compete despite fans clamoring to re-enlist in Arnie's Army.
 
But as Trevino told the event's organizers last year, Palmer has a grandson who's good at golf. Can't that count? he asked.
 
Apparently so. Sixteen-year-old Sam Saunders will join his grandfather at the ninth annual Father/Son Challenge, which begins Saturday at ChampionsGate Golf Resort near Orlando.
 
'I guess the powers that be took Trevino's nudging to heart, and here we are,' Palmer said shortly after being mobbed by well-wishers when he finished a pro-am round. 'We're both happy to be here.'
 
The Palmer/Saunders pairing is one of 16 in a field where the fathers have combined for 60 major championships. Other competitors for the $1 million purse include Trevino and son Tony, and Jack Nicklaus and Jack Nicklaus II. Palmer is the oldest player while the youngest is 13-year-old Javier Ballesteros, son of Seve.
 
Saunders already has proved himself as a golfer to be reckoned with. Next month, he will defend his junior and senior club championships at Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando. At his high school, Trinity Prep in Winter Park, Saunders took first place in the state regionals as a freshman last year.
 
'I think it should be a good team effort, and we always have fun when we play together,' said Saunders, the oldest male of Palmer's seven grandchildren. 'I'm looking forward to it.'
 
During Thursday's pro-am event, Saunders used his head to pay homage to his grandfather. He wore a black-and-gold ballcap from Wake Forest - Palmer's alma mater.
 
Saunders has another 2 1/2 years of high school remaining and said Wake was one of the colleges he's considering. When asked what other schools are among his choices, Palmer, ever the attentive alum, responded with a fake coughing fit.
 
'I definitely want to be a pro golfer,' Saunders said. 'I love it. It's what I do every day and I never get tired of it - I think that means something.'
 
The event will be televised nationally, but this isn't Saunders' first time in the spotlight.
 
In March 2002, Saunders played as a marker with Peter Jacobsen at the Bay Hill Invitational. Judging by the cheers he received on the first tee, the grandson was just as popular as the grandfather.
 
That popularity has people excited about Palmer's debut in the event.
 
'I think it's wonderful to have Palmer anywhere,' said Craig Stadler, who will be defending his 2002 Challenge title with son Kevin. 'He adds such an amount of charm to a golf tournament, any tournament.'
 
Added Roy Saunders, Sam's father and caddy: 'It is amazing to see the warm reception he gets everywhere he goes. He's definitely one of the favorites.'
 
Although grown men react with exuberant fist-pumps and joyful skipping when a hat is signed for them, Palmer - the winner of 92 tournaments worldwide, including seven majors - remains modest in the face of such adulation.
 
'The people are why I'm here.'
 
The Father/Son Challenge is sponsored by Office Depot.
 
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