PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Sam Saunders doesn’t need reminding that his grandfather, Arnold Palmer, won what is now called the Genesis Open three times.
The tournament wasn’t played at Riviera Country Club in the 1960s – Rancho Park Golf Course is where Palmer won in 1963, 1966 and 1967 – but Palmer left his imprint on an event with a history dripping, appropriately enough, with star power.
Having earned a sponsor exemption into the Genesis Open this year, Saunders made the most of his first competitive crack at Riviera, shooting 7-under 64 Thursday to hold the lead when the first round was suspended by darkness with 47 golfers still finishing their back nine.
Sam Saunders ties his lowest score in 221 career rounds on the PGA TOUR.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 17, 2017
With an ominous weather forecast – some predictions suggest Los Angeles will get its heaviest rainfall in more than a decade on Friday – Saunders may have down time to enjoy his position and to think about his grandfather who passed away in September.
“He always talked about how much he loved coming out here and playing,” Saunders said. “I think his celebrity matched pretty well with the celebrity atmosphere you have here.”
Saunders, who lost the 2015 Puerto Rico Open in a playoff, has his PGA Tour card this year but his most memorable moment, at least in the public memory, came at his grandfather’s memorial service last fall. Saunders spoke eloquently, hitting just the right notes on an emotional day.
“I spoke from the heart as my granddad always did,” Saunders said. “I spoke the truth. I was very fortunate to get the words out and keep my composure. I was a mess leading into it but once I got up there it just started to come out.”
Before that, there is the matter of trying to win his first PGA Tour event. He’s missed three cuts in four Tour starts in the wraparound season but a T8 at a Web.com Tour event in the Bahamas in January reassured Saunders his game isn’t far away.
“To go out and have a stress-free round where everything just kind of went the right way and get off to a good start, it’s a lot more enjoyable to play golf that way when you’re not grinding the first day and you look at the rest of the week and feel like you’re playing catch-up,” he said. “I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”