Amy Saunders strives to build on her father Arnold Palmer's legacyOrlando Sentinel — By Edgar Thompson Orlando Sentinel
March 12-- Arnold Palmer never met a stranger or faced a golf shot he feared.
Amy Saunders, the late Palmer's younger daughter, is more apt to remain behind the scenes and examine her options.
Saunders also is very much her father's daughter.
Saunders will channel his hard-charging style and use her considerable charm to grow Palmer's many businesses and ensure her father's rich legacy is remembered for generations to come.
"I'd be the first to tell you that I'm the introvert and he was an extrovert," Saunders said. "But I certainly admired and watched how he handled himself. I'd like to think some people lead from the back of the room and some from the front."
As chairwoman of Arnold Palmer Group, Saunders now oversees a conglomerate worth around $700 million, featuring golf course design and ownership, a clothing line and the iced tea and lemonade concoction bearing her father's name.
Saunders did not necessarily plan for this moment.
The 59-year-old married her husband, Roy, after her freshman year at Rollins College and finished school at Gainesville's Santa Fe College before raising a family.
But as her father's health declined, Saunders spent more time by his side to learn the day-to-day operations of his vast empire.
"It gave me a greater appreciation for what we needed to do moving forward," Saunders said.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational serves as Saunder's best platform to celebrate her father and remind people of his remarkable life.
This week's tournament brings together many of Palmer's passions-golf, philanthropy, family, friends and Bay Hill Club and Lodge, the Latrobe, Pa., native's longtime home in Florida.
Saunders and her family, including Sam, her son and a PGA Tour professional, have made it their mission to maintain the API as one of the premier stops in golf despite the loss of its namesake.
Ever since the tournament moved to Bay Hill in 1979, Palmer's presence and his golf course were the draw. The 2017 API was a tribute in the wake of his passing Sept. 25, 2016, at age 87.
"I think this year is looking to the future and celebrating the life and all the things he left us," Saunders said. "I think he would expect everybody gets on and would see how this tournament can enhance all that was created around it."
The PGA Tour has recognized the event's unique and elite status by awarding the winner a three-year exemption in 2014, rather than standard two years, and raising the purse last year to $8.7 million, up from $6.3 million in 2016. The purse will be $8.9 million this week.
Longtime sponsors also have sustained their level of support. Mastercard extended its deal as presenting sponsor for six years, while Hertz and Orlando Health will serve as associate sponsors the next four years.
In the end, though, many will judge the tournament's success by who tees it up.
Tiger Woods returns to Bay Hill for the first time since 2013-when the 42-year-old won the last of his record eight Arnold Palmer Invitational wins. Woods highlights a field featuring 10 of the top 17 players in the world rankings, but the tournament is also lacking the star power of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Phil Mickelson.
Woods tees of with Thursday with Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama.
Growing up on the Space Coast 80 miles away in Grant, Billy Horschel regarded Bay Hill as his hometown event and attended it as a kid.
Horschel grew to realize Palmer was a giant of the game and believes his tournament should carry the same weight with his fellow players.
"I've never missed it," he said. "There's the guys that have supported it and continue to support, I'm one of them. I just hope the big-name guys show up. I'm not calling anyone out by saying this, but there's some names that have missed and there's some names have missed it the last time Arnie was there and this last year that I felt owed it to Arnie to be at his event.
"Now that does that mean they're not going to come down the road. I just hope the Arnold Palmer stays strong because it's a good course and Arnie meant a lot to this game."
But a player's schedule can be tricky. The API just might not fit.
Spieth, for example, is a native of Dallas who attended the University of Texas. He will play next week's Match Play Championships at Austin Country Club and the Houston Open leading up the Masters next month.
"It should be about the people that are playing, not about the people who are not playing," said Englishman Ian Poulter, a longtime Lake Nona resident and friend of Palmer. "You can't play 48 weeks in a year."
When it came to his golf tournament, Palmer did not plan for the inevitable and lay a foundation to ensure all the top players and his sponsors would show up in perpetuity.
"He thought he would be here forever, actually," Saunders said with a smile. "I don't think that occurred to him. But he didn't plan in that way. I think he knew he left something we all could embrace and enhance.
"He didn't leave instructions."
But Palmer and his wife, Winnie, did leave a mark no golfer ever has-and maybe never will. In Orlando, a foundation, a children's hospital, an international brand and a golf tournament forged a legacy his family looks to carry on.
It is a daunting assignment, Amy Saunders admits. Yet, she also was handed the blueprint by the two people she admired most.
"I miss most having the guidance they provided me every day," Saunders said of her parents. "I think of it all the time. Every time I have a tough decision to make, I truly do think about what either of them would say."
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