(Reprint from Shreveport Bossier Journal)
It hadn’t even been a full week since Sam Burns was feeling a bit lost on the golf course. His game wasn’t that far off, but after leading the richest event in PGA Tour history — The Players – after 36 holes, the subsequent 26th place finish, including a final-round 76, got the former Calvary Baptist Academy (Shreveport) and LSU star on the phone in a hurry.
“I called (longtime swing coach Brad Pullin) on Monday and I was like, ‘Man, I’m struggling, I’m not really sure.’ And he was like, ‘I can be there tomorrow,’” Burns said.
Pullin, who is a native of Jackson Parish and the son of Ross and now deceased Ginger Pullin, is based just east of Ruston at Choudrant’s Squire Creek Country Club (where Burns now lives), hopped in his car and headed toward his star pupil.
“He drove 12 hours on Tuesday or Monday … I don’t even know, and we just got to work,” Burns said. “He is passionate about what he does and he would do anything for me.”
Sunday, Burns used a final-round rally to successfully defend the Valspar Championship – site of his first PGA Tour victory – in Palm Harbor, Florida. Burns, 25, has now won three times in less than 11 months and vaulted to No. 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s the first Shreveporter in 16 years to have a place in the Top 10 (David Toms, June of 2006).
“I just try to put in hard work, just try to improve my game every year, every week, look at stats and see what areas I can get better at and then my team and I try to attack those areas,” Burns said. “And that’s all I can control and so I mean, it’s nice to see that those things are paying off. It gives us motivation that we’re working on the right things.”
Burns has quickly become a nice fit among the prior generation of local stars. He’s on pace with Hal Sutton, who won 14 times, including a PGA Championship.
Like Burns, Sutton won for the first time at 24 years old. His third victory – the PGA Championship – also came at 25 years old, His fourth came at age 27. The Centenary product’s longest reign in the Top 10 was 54 weeks (2000-01) and he peaked at No. 4 (2000).
Toms amassed 13 PGA Tour wins (he also won a PGA Championship), but didn’t find the winner’s circle for the first time until he was 30 years old. However, Toms once spent 131 straight weeks in the Top 10 (2001-04) and peaked at No. 5 in 2002.
Burns has a long way to go to catch his mentors, but the expectations for that and more are warranted. He has established himself as a guy who could win on any given week – no one has won more on the PGA Tour in the past 11 months.
Burns has five top-10 finishes (tied for most on the PGA Tour) in 11 events this season. He’s second in the FedExCup and a lock to play on this year’s United States President’s Cup team.
Even though the flood gates have opened for Burns on the PGA Tour, he’s well aware of how precious success can be.
“You just don’t win a lot out here. I mean the percentages are just not in your favor,” he said. “A lot of times somebody else just beats you, somebody else plays better or somebody else gets a break here or there that you didn’t. And that’s just kind of part of the game.
“You don’t want to be frustrated after you finish third or fourth or second or whatever it is, because you did something really well that week and you have to kind of hang your hat on a lot of the good things you did, because once you start going down that path of the negative stuff, it can be tricky.”
Or, you know when to make a call for help.
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