NAPA, California – Just a few weeks ago, after Hurricane Laura battered the Louisiana community that he calls home, Sam Burns grabbed a chainsaw and chopped down a tree that fell in a neighbor’s driveway across the street.
“I just tried to help out where I could,” he said. “I don’t think I did a whole lot, but I just tried to be a helping hand.”
It puts a water ball and subsequent double bogey at the par-3 11th hole, Burns’s second hole of the day at Silverado Resort and Spa’s North Course, in proper perspective, but it doesn’t mean Burns didn’t simmer on the inside.
“It pissed me off a little bit, woke me up, I guess,” he said. “It picked me up, like, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ Just kind of stuck with it and the golf course opened up for me the rest of the day.”
Did it ever. Burns birdied the next three holes and eight in a 12-hole span to shoot 7-under 65 and open a two-stroke lead over Harry Higgs after the second round of the Safeway Open.
Burns, 24, is another up-and-coming American pro who has floated under the radar as the likes of Collin Morikawa, Matt Wolff, Norway’s Viktor Hovland won tournaments, and, more recently, Scottie Scheffler, have made headlines. But Burns has an impressive pedigree too: 2014 AJGA Rolex Junior Player of the Year; a three-time state champion at Louisiana; All-American and Jack Nicklaus Award winner in 2016-17. He’s confident his time will come.
“Comparison is kind of the thief of joy. I try to stay as far away from that as possible,” he said. “There’s no timeline for me.”
That timeline could accelerate if he continues playing the way he has during the opening two rounds. Despite the early double bogey, Burns improved to 15-under 129 and hit 16 of 18 greens in the second round and ranks first in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-green. He credited his strong ballstriking performance to his ability to adjust quickly to a new set of irons he put in the bag this week.
“Some of the guys at Callaway came to my house last week and we worked on some stuff with my irons, put the new irons in play. So far, they’ve been pretty good,” He said.
Burns is making his 61st Tour start this week and if anything has slowed his progression, it may be due to breaking his right ankle in July 2019, which forced him to miss the rest of the 2018-19 season.
“I came back and tried to play in the fall but came back too early, just really bothered by my ankle,” said Burns, who made his first FedEx Cup Playoff appearance and finished No. 111 in the standings.
Higgs shot the low round of the day, a bogey-free 62 that included a walk-off albatross.
From 230 yards out on his final hole of the day …
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 11, 2020
Australian Cameron Percy (64-68), American D.J. Trahan and Scot Russell Knox (63-69) shared third. Knox, the overnight leader, was stuck in neutral most of the day, but finished with birdies on the final two holes and drew inspiration from the U.S. Open tennis.
“I watched a great tennis match last night, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka got dominated the first set. It was amazing so watch her pump herself up. Her body language changed and it was really amazing how she lifted her level of play and was able to go on and win the match,” Knox said. “Kind of inspired me to try and do that today. I mean, when things were kind of in neutral, I was like, you know what, let’s get going here. A little Friday fist pumps never hurt anyone.”
Doug Ghim (66), one of 13 players who had to finish his first round in the morning, and James Hahn (65), who has 14 events remaining on a medical exemption to regain his playing privileges, are tied for six at 11 under.
“I’m just counting down the number of tournaments that I have remaining,” Hahn said. “Just kind of walking the course today, I was just kind of telling myself I have 14 opportunities to win a golf tournament and from there, you know, whatever happens, whether they let me keep playing or whether they tell me to go home, I think I’m just going to go out and try to give it my all.”
"I've seen it a thousand times, but it amuses me every time."
Phil the Thrill to fans and his playing partners. pic.twitter.com/dZRxX82w6t
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 12, 2020
Phil Mickelson birdied three holes in a row beginning at No. 8 and posted a bogey-free round of 67.
“I needed to go a little bit lower, but I’ve got a chance if I go really low tomorrow, 8- 9-under, to get myself in it for Sunday,” Mickelson said.
Major winners Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry won’t have that chance as they were among the casualties of the 36-hole cut.