How is Sam Burns suddenly golf’s hottest player? A shot into water helps explain.

Sam Burns

Sam Burns hits his tee shot on Friday on the 9th hole at TPC Summerlin.

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Sam Burns hit his tee shot on the par-3 17th at TPC Summerlin, he slid his iron down his fingers, and he watched. But he knew. His ball drifted toward the water left of the green and then was gone. 

“Oh, what happened there,” the announcer asked on the PGA Tour Live broadcast. 

It was a good question. Last week, at the Sanderson Farms Championships, Burns had shot rounds of 68, 66, 65 and 67 and won his second Tour tournament by a stroke. Four days later, he had played his first 16 holes of the Shriners Children’s Open at seven-under.

But you want to know how that happened? How Burns suddenly became the hottest player in the world? How Phil Mickelson, three time zones away, singled him out as “most likely definitely” making the next Ryder Cup team?

They’re playing this Shriners tournament in Vegas, so we’ll borrow a phrase from Sin City to answer all that. 

What happens on holes like the 17th, stays on holes like the 17th. 

“Zero,” Burns said Friday when asked how much that shot during Thursday’s first round “bothered” him. 

“It’s just golf.”

And the man is more than just playing it. He followed the double bogey on 17 with a par for a five-under 66. On Friday, he birdied his first hole after hitting his approach to a yard, added seven more birdies for an eight-under 63 and is one shot behind leaders Sungjae Im and Chad Ramey heading into the weekend.  

This after his week at the Sanderson Farms, where he finished first in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and second in SG: Approach the Green, and made a whopping 26 birdies. And that after a run since early May where he won the Valspar Championship, finished second twice and reached the Tour Championship. 

“I feel comfortable,” Burns said. “At the end of the day, it’s golf. It’s not anything crazy. So I just try to keep it as simple view. I think for me, just coming out here and enjoying myself, having fun, that’s what we’re supposed to do out here, right? So just trying to do that.”

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Of course, two weeks before this two-week run was the Ryder Cup, and Burns, despite his summer, was not among the dozen players on the winning U.S. team. It was no doubt close — Mickelson, a vice captain for the winning U.S. team, alluded to that as much, saying this week at the Champions Tour’s Furyk and Friends event in Florida: “I mean, look at Sam Burns, he was inches away from being on. He’ll most likely definitely be on the next one. I just don’t see how a guy that talented won’t be.” 

The guy himself sees that, too. 

“I watched a little bit; I didn’t really watch much, to be honest,” Burns said last week after his victory. “I don’t necessarily watch a lot of golf. But, yeah, I think getting the call from [captain Steve] Stricker on Monday and hearing the news that I didn’t make the team was definitely very motivating and definitely kind of gut wrenching. And, so, yeah, I think it’s definitely motivated me to try to be on the next team and continue to try to improve and hopefully be on it the next go.”

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor