Sam Saunders leads Genesis Open 50 years after grandfather Palmer won it

Fifty years ago, Arnold Palmer won the Los Angeles Open for the third and final time in his career. He bested Gay Brewer by five shots and picked up a $20,000 winner’s check for his second consecutive win in the tournament.

On Thursday, Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, positioned himself atop the leaderboard at what the L.A. Open is now, the Genesis Open. Saunders shot 7-under 64 at famed Riviera Country Club to take a two-shot edge.

Saunders, who has limited PGA Tour status this season, was given an exemption into this event. Surely his lineage had at least something to do with getting the spot, but Saunders knows and accepts that he doesn’t have to live up to his legendary grandfather.

“I don’t need to compete against my grandfather’s career. Nobody can,” he said. “I don’t care how many golf tournaments you win, nobody’s going to compete in the terms of doing what he did for the game. And for me to try to promote my own brand or name would be foolish because I have such a great opportunity to promote and to continue what he has already done. That’s what I’m going to do and not make it about myself.”

Sam Saunders took the Thursday lead at Riviera. (Getty Images)
Sam Saunders took the Thursday lead at Riviera. (Getty Images)

Saunders was one of several who eulogized his grandfather after his death last September, and he said the experience has made him feel more at ease trying to compete inside the ropes.

“I do feel a little bit more comfortable out here just knowing that was a pretty big stage and a pretty big moment and I was OK. I felt comfortable up there,” Saunders said. “So if I can handle that, I would like to think that maybe I can handle being in a position out here with an opportunity to win a golf tournament.”

Everywhere he goes, Saunders hears from members of Arnie’s Army, recalling stories and expressing their sympathies. Saunders knows Palmer touched a lot of people, even those who didn’t much care about golf. Saunders tried to look at what his grandfather meant for his livelihood.

“If I look at it subjectively as just a guy, a young guy that plays on the PGA Tour, I owe my entire career to him – not because I’m his grandson, but because I’m a guy who plays on the PGA Tour,” Saunders said. “We’re all out here because of what he did.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


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