by Jeff Skinner
Sunday brought us some wonderful golf on the PGA and Champions Tours. I feel for those that think Tiger and Phil are the only reason to follow the tours. Camilo Villegas topped a youthful leader board at The Honda which was studded with familiar names that could dominate the tours this season and even take home a few major championships. Villegas, the Columbian heartthrob, took home his first trophy since 2008 and second place finisher; Anthony Kim looked as fit as ever and ready to reclaim his 2008 form when he and Villegas both won twice. Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood continued the resurgence of English golf with top ten finishes for all and a renewed Vijay Singh showed there is still life in those old 47 year old bones. Any of those players could win a major or two this year and it would be surprising if they don’t.
Fred Couples wins his second title on The Champions Tour in his third start. His other start was a second place finish, so it’s easy to see he feels comfortable playing on the senior circuit. But then, Freddy looks comfortable anywhere. If he was any more laid back he’d fall over. You have to admire a guy that can stroll on to the course, laugh, smile and carry on with his partners and fans and then shoot lights out…bad back and all. Freddy is one of a kind.
I found some of the back story at the Honda interesting. With Jack and Barbara Nicklaus heavily involved in the tournament since their charity is the beneficiary, we got to see and hear from The Golden Bear and his wife Barbara. When Jack speaks, we all listen and it’s a joy to hear him go on about the game. It was interesting to hear that Arnold Palmer had given his old friends Jack and Barbara a call campaigning for a sponsor’s exemption for his grandson Sam Saunders. Deservedly so, Saunders was granted an exemption and he didn’t disappoint himself or his grandfather.
Saunders had a wonderful week shooting three 69’s before slipping to a 73 on Sunday but he certainly showed a bit of his Grandpa’s style on the final hole. Hoping to reach the 18th in two and displaying the same bravado that endeared his grandfather to millions of fans, he hit his driver from the fairway on his second shot. A bold move indeed, who cares that it didn’t work out and he took bogey at least he’s willing to go for it.
Saunders finished tied for seventeenth in his fourth start on the PGA Tour this year. He has had mixed results with two missed cuts and a seventieth place finish in addition to The Honda. He’ll use his last exemption at Bay Hill in a few weeks when he plays in Arnie’s Bay Hill Invitational. Talk about a home field advantage: Arnie owns the Bay Hill, his parents manage the resort and Sam grew up on it.
Saunders left Clemson a year early to turn professional and his game looks to be improving to the point that even Nicklaus said he has the skills to be a good player. Saunders is an intriguing story but his game can certainly stand on its own. Still, it has to be nice having Arnold Palmer calling his friends asking for exemptions for his boy. There is nothing wrong with that, but can you imagine if any of those tournament directors could possibly say no to Arnie. How can anyone possibly refuse a request from The King? If it wasn’t for Arnie there would be no PGA Tour as we know it today. All those pros would be selling shirts in a pro shop and giving lessons to guys who shoots 120. Arnie didn’t invent the tour or golf; he just dragged it along with him as he took it out of the country clubs and placed it smack dab in front of everyday Americans. Arnie is the reason there is popular golf in America.
If Arnie calls and asks for an exemption for his dog they should sign him up. Arnie deserves anything he asks for after all, he’s still The King.