KORN FERRY TOUR INSIDER
Burns puts down roots where he feels at home -- small town America
September 07, 2018
By Adam Stanley, Special to the PGATOUR.COM
- Sam Burns finished second on the Web.com Tour Regular Season money list. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Given the year Sam Burns had, it’s no surprise that when it came time for him to purchase a home, he did so in a small town in hopes of slowing things down.
“Actually, small is an understatement,” says Burns with a laugh.
Indeed: Choudrant, Louisiana doesn’t even qualify as a ‘town,’ it’s actually a village. With a population of less than 1,000, one stoplight (and a Subway), Burns has bucked the trend of his fellow 20-something professionals who’ve set up in South Florida or Scottsdale, Arizona.
He instead decided to buy a home in The Orchards at Squire Creek, a new housing development adjacent to Squire Creek Country Club, a private Tom Fazio design about an hour from Shreveport, Louisiana – where Burns grew up.
It’s easier for him to reflect on the year-that-was there, and how much he’s looking forward to the 2018-19 PGA TOUR season.
“I’ve always loved the small-town feeling,” says Burns. “Especially with what I do, it’s good for me to go there and get away.”
Listening to Burns speak, you realize quickly he’s not a guy who’ll waste time waxing philosophical about life and golf.
He’s polite, quick with a chuckle, and if you bring up Louisiana State University football, he’ll perk up. He counts both Nicholas Air (branded as “innovative private air travel”) and Todd Shores’ McLarty Ford, a local dealership in Texarkana, Texas – about an hour from Shreveport – as his sponsors. It’s quite the juxtaposition, but for Burns, it fits.
Private planes and F-150’s from a dealership up the road are both just fine by Burns.
With the year he had, it’s little wonder Burns was happy for an escape to his new small-town home before the last two events of the Web.com Tour Finals.
Burns played 16 tournaments on the Web.com Tour, winning the Savannah Golf Championship and finishing second on the Regular Season money list. He finished in the top 25 of half his starts, including five top-10s. It was an impressive run for a guy who played about 10 tournaments fewer than most of his colleagues on Tour.
But Burns only played so few tournaments on the Web.com Tour because he was busy teeing it up 11 times on the PGA TOUR. He played his second U.S. Open in June, and got a spot in The Honda Classic, where he finished tied for eighth after his Sunday 68 nipped playing partner Tiger Woods by two shots (and caused his phone to be bombarded with upward of 500 text messages).
“He played beautifully,” said Woods at the time.
Burns says playing with Woods and winning on the Web.com Tour were his two favorite moments in a year full of big ones.
In January, he was on the driving range at Torrey Pines when he realized the only spot left was the one next to Woods, a larger-than-life inspiration Burns had never interacted with.
“I walked up to the range and I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ I was kind of freaking out. As anyone would do, I guess,” Burns says, laughing.
Little did he know that about a month later not only would he be paired with Woods, he would beat him.
Burns’ home is just three doors down from his longtime swing coach, Brad Pullin, who the now 22-year-old has been working with since he was a young teenager.
“He was really fired up going into that round,” says Pullin of Burns’ round with Woods. “It was the opportunity to play with one of the greatest. And he performed great.”
Pullin knew immediately that Burns was a special student. They spent a lot of time working on Burns’ habits while he was younger, and tried to maintain things that were already solid. Pullin learned a lot about what Burns’ tendencies were when he was ‘off’ and how to adjust his movement patterns.
When Burns went away to LSU, the two kept in touch via video messaging and kept Burns’ fundamentals tight.
“Basically I tried to do everything I could do not to mess him up,” jokes Pullin.
There was nothing, Pullin explains, that surprised him this year about Burns. With the string of solid finishes across two tours, the world finally got to see what Pullin has known for nearly a decade.
“It’s no secret to us how special he is and what a great player he is, it’s just a matter of going out there and getting it done. He’s been able to do that. He’s handled the travel brilliantly and I’m looking for him to continue that,” he says.
During the season, Burns didn’t realize how much golf he was actually playing. But now he’s crunched the numbers (he played upward of 33 events) and he’s accepted how much of a grind 2018 truly was.
He says he didn’t really “know any different” in terms of a schedule. He just kept playing.
“It was all new to me. Looking back on it … man, that was really difficult. There was such a different mindset too,” he admits. “Going from different tours and figuring out what was the best way to do things. That was tough.”
Burns made eight cuts out of the 11 events he played on the PGA TOUR this year and earned just shy of $500,000. He didn’t earn enough Non-Member FedExCup points to earn membership for the balance of the year, but with his victory early in the Web.com Tour season (which was preceded by a tie for second two weeks prior) he had his spot in The 25 locked up early.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge to start, but you have to do it because … once you’re so close to getting your card (via sponsor exemptions) you have to keep doing it if those opportunities keep presenting themselves, and they did,” says Pullin.
“Once you establish that schedule a little bit better and you’re playing the same places year in and year out that makes a big difference.”
The first half of the year Burns says his habits were pretty much the same. He played 15 events or so without feeling any fatigue, but in the second half of the year he realized how important it is to incorporate a rest day into his schedule.
He’s been, for the most part this year, healthy. He admits he’s had some minor stuff impact his body – he withdrew from the DAP Championship – but overall he’s just excited to get out on TOUR.
Burns confirms 2018 was a year of learning. Right off the bat, he says, guys who have been traveling on TOUR for as little as three years all know where to stay and where to eat.
“I didn’t have that luxury, and I’m still trying to learn those things,” he says.
But he did have another helpful experience in 2018 aside from teeing it up with Woods –his second U.S. Open came after winning medalist honors at his qualifying site in Memphis, Tennessee.
He says there were certain things he had to manage differently for a week at a major, but he made the cut and finished tied for 41st. He says that experience is one he’ll continue to lean on moving forward, until major championship appearances become routine.
He admits stepping up to a major championship can be overwhelming, especially as he was just getting his feet wet in professional golf. But Burns’ remedy, which should come as no surprise, was to just “take it slow.”
So while Burns is enjoying his life that’s slowed down, there is one thing he’s done quickly: find success in professional golf.
And he’s just getting started.