The PGA Tour regular-season finale, which began with a celebration of Arnold Palmer’s life, ended in bitter disappointment for his grandson, former Clemson golfer Sam Saunders, who didn’t mince words in describing his state of mind after failing to wrap up full status on the Tour next season by a mere two strokes.
“Miserable,” said Saunders, 30, after shooting 1-under-par 69 Sunday at Sedgefield Country Club for an 8-under 272 total in the Wyndham Championship. “It was like the least enjoyable round of golf I’ve played in my life. You don’t know if you’re going to throw up or have a heart attack.
“It’s worse than trying to win a tournament ten-fold.”
Despite a tie for 37th Sunday, Saunders, ranked No. 127 in the FedEx Cup standings entering the tournament, failed to climb the two spots he needed to earn full status on the PGA Tour for next season and qualify for the FedEx playoffs.
He fell to No. 129. If he had finished two strokes better, he would have edged J.J. Henry for the No. 125 spot.
The site of the disappointment was a Sedgefield course only 30 minutes from Wake Forest University, where Palmer had played before embarking on his legendary pro career. On Tuesday, Saunders spoke when the club unveiled a plaque honoring his grandfather, who died at 87 last September.
Saunders lost ground because Henry, Rory Sabbatini, Martin Flores and Harold Varner III finished ahead of him at Sedgefield and climbed over him into the top 125.
Following an opening-round 63 that gave him a leg up on the dozen or so players still fighting for Top 125 status, Saunders shot 68 and 72.
Without full privileges on the Tour next year, Saunders won’t be assured entry into every tournament, leaving his schedule in flux. And he often will draw the least-desirable late-afternoon tee times during the opening round.
“I’ve never had to birdie one (or two) holes to be able to change my life for one year,” said Saunders, who didn’t have full status on the Tour this season. “That’s just what kills me. It just changes everything for next year. I’m tired of teeing off last each week and having to climb uphill. It’s such an uphill battle, and it wears you out.”