Sam Burns notches second win at Sanderson Farms Championship
4 Min Read
After brief lull is once again looking like one of America’s best young players
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
Sam Burns shoots 5-under on final day to win at Sanderson Farms
JACKSON, Miss. – Sam Burns was 4 years old and barely knew how to grip a club.
Older brother Chase, a middle-school golfer, agreed to teach him only to humor their mother.
“I was like, this is going to be a waste of time, he’s 4 years old,” Chase said at the Sanderson Farms Championship on Sunday, as Burns shot 67 to capture his second PGA TOUR title by one over Nick Watney (65) and Cameron Young (68).
So, no. It was not a waste of time, that spring Louisiana afternoon.
“They were U.S. Kids clubs,” Chase said. “I took him out there and gave him a couple of pointers. I think he hit an 8-iron or something, and the very first swing he hits a little 70-yard draw. I was like, wow, I bet he couldn’t do that again.
“I give him another ball, same thing, it lands three feet from the first one,” he continued. “I’m like, oh, my gosh. I give him another one. Boom, same thing. I’m like, I’ve got to go tell Dad.”
Tell Dad, tell Mom, tell everyone: Just a few weeks after U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker called to say he wasn’t going to make the team, Burns, 25, made four birdies in a six-hole stretch to pull away at the Sanderson. After a spate of close calls, he is starting to figure it out, and once again looks like one of America’s best young players.
“Getting the call from Stricker on Monday and hearing the news that I didn't make the team was very motivating and kind of gut wrenching,” he said. “It's definitely motivated me to try to be on the next team.”
Asked about wearing yellow for the final round, he said he was thinking of his infant nephew, Burns Walker, his sister Tori’s son, who has been in Dallas Children’s Hospital with spinal meningitis. “He won't remember it,” Burns said, “because he's only five or six weeks old, but I'll definitely remember it and our family will remember it and just really thinking about my sister and her husband and their family and what they have experienced.
“It's been really hard and so just ask everyone to keep them in their thoughts and prayers.”
Brad Pullin, Burns’ coach since he was 15, said that’s typical Sam.
“He has a huge heart,” Pullin said. “He cares about everybody else before himself.”
Competing just a few hours from his home in Ruston, Louisiana, Burns was cheered on by his wife, Caroline Campbell; father; in-laws; coach; agent; and, yes, older brother. He built up a two-shot cushion to render moot his bogey at the 18th hole, kissed Caroline, and went to sign his card. After winning in his first start of the new season, he is tied atop the FedExCup standings with Fortinet Championship winner Max Homa.
Chase saw it all coming 21 years ago, before his little brother became the No. 1 ranked junior recruit in the U.S. for the Class of 2015, and before he chose to stay close to home, picking Louisiana State. Although he stalled as a freshman, Burns became first LSU Tiger in program history to be named the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year as a sophomore.
That pattern – sluggish start, followed by victories – is now repeating itself on TOUR. Burns had the most 36-hole leads/co-leads last season with five. He tied Jordan Spieth for the most 54-hole leads with four. He had a five-shot lead after the second round of The Genesis Invitational last season, which was tied for largest 36-hole lead all season. He finished third.
It was at the Valspar Championship outside Tampa last spring, when he outlasted Keegan Bradley to capture his first PGA TOUR victory, that Burns had an epiphany: He didn’t need to be perfect to win.
“I was trying to do too much,” he said afterward.
His Sanderson Farms victory only solidified that lesson. Although Burns led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, he lost a lot of ground on the greens (57th in SG: Putting). It was a rare off-week for a player who ranked ninth in that stat last season, when he not only picked up his first win but also advanced to the TOUR Championship for the first time.
“If you watch his whole career,” Chase Burns said, “he’s always started out slow and then once he figured out he could win, it’s like, Katy, bar the door, he’s comin’. I think last year was that year where he figured out, hey, I can win out here.”
Katy, bar the door. Sam Burns looks a lot like one of America’s best players again.
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.