PINEHURST , NC (July 18, 2007) -– Clemson rising sophomore Sam Saunders, grandson of golfing icon Arnold Palmer, lowered the competitive course record to 63 at the Country Club of North Carolina’s Dogwood Course on Wednesday to race off with the first round lead of the 101st Southern Amateur Golf Championship.
The stunning performance, two shots lower than Saunders’ personal competitive best, included one bogey, eight birdies and an eagle. The latter came on the par-5 finishing hole where he teed off with a 3-wood and ripped a 3-iron 228 yards uphill to within 20 feet of the pin. The Orlando lad rolled in the downhill, sidehill tester to punctuate his remarkable round with the eagle three.
“That was a tough putt and I was just trying to cozy it down there close. It was a little bit of a shock when it went in,” said Saunders, 19, who takes a 3-stroke lead into Thursday’s second round.
Playing partner Mike McCoy, 44, and 7-time Iowa amateur of the year, wasn’t shocked. “Every time he drew it back, the ball went in. You could see his confidence building as he went around. It was fun to watch.”
Saunders fired a 29 on the back nine where his card showed one 5 and eight 3s. “I’ve felt my swing coming lately and only missed two greens today,” said Saunders, who knows the Southern Am champ each year earns a berth in the following year’s PGA Tour Arnold Palmer Invitational. He played in the tournament last year on a sponsor’s free pass from his grandfather. “I would love to earn my way back in.”
Saunders upstaged his more heralded Clemson teammate, Kyle Stanley, who suffered a double bogey on the 16th hole and finished at 69. “That was disappointing, but there’s a lot of golf to play,” said Stanley, the defending champ.
Grouped in second place at 6-under-par 66 were Bryce Ledford of Ooltewah TN , Garrett Osborn of Birmingham, Robbie Wight of West Palm Beach and Southern Cal freshman All-American Rory Hie of Los Angeles .
The international field of 168 elite amateurs will be cut to 66 players after Thursday’s second round. The event concludes on Saturday.