Sahith Theegala and his entourage. Jed Jacobsohn
For Sahith Theegala, playing in the Fortinet Championship was a no-brainer, mostly for golf reasons but especially because the California native could enjoy the week with family and friends.
And, boy, did he enjoy the week.
With a group of more than 30 boisterous supporters following his every shot and quite a bit of internal motivation further carrying him along, the second-year PGA Tour player was an unstoppable force on Sunday. His breakthrough maiden victory never seemed in doubt as he raced out to a sizable lead and went on to defeat SH Kim by two strokes at Silverado Resort in Napa, California. A closing four-unde 68 gave him a 21-under 267 total, tying Stewart Cink’s record score on the Silverado’s North Course.
“It doesn’t feel real. It’s probably not going to set in for a while, but man it was a lot of good golf, and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” said the native of Orange, California, whose enjoyment was enhanced by the presence of his parents, his girlfriend and many others. “I had so many family and friends cheering me on, and just the support I have is mind-blowing. I go to bed at night these last few days and, like, I can’t believe how many people are cheering for me, but this feeling is incredible.”
From the standpoint of his status on the PGA Tour, Theegala didn’t need to show up at the first event of the new FedEx Fall series. After advancing to the BMW Championship during the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August, he already had secured full status for 2024, not to mention spots in all of the tour’s big-money signature events. But there was no way he was going to pass on a tournament in his native California. With an affinity for Silverado Resort and an itch to compete after a seeming eternity of time off for the self-professed golf “addict” — in this case, three whole weeks — he just had to tee it up.
He also was highly motivated after missing the Tour Championship by one spot in the FedEx Cup points standings, coming up nine points shy of 30th place after a bogey on the 72nd hole at Olympia Fields.
Of course, the family angle can’t be discounted. His father Muralidhar had a birthday earlier in the week, and one of Sahith’s best friends hails from Napa.
Put that all together and is it really surprising that Theegala became the 12th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this season?
After beginning the final round with a two-stroke lead over three players, including two-time PGA champion Justin Thomas, Theegala, who put new irons in his bag this week, immediately opened with a birdie from six feet to move three ahead, and he never let his advantage slip below that figure until a bogey on the par-five finishing hole.
A decorated collegiate player at Pepperdine, who in 2020 swept the three most prestigious player-of-the-year awards in Division I, Theegala broke his maiden in his 74th career start and converted a 54-hole lead for the first time in three tries. As a playoff participant, he will not get FedEx points for the victory, but he does earn $1.512 million, a two-year tour exemption, and World Ranking points. He began the week 37th in the Official World Golf Ranking and is projected to jump to 27th.
Kim, who shared the lead with Theegala through 36 holes, shot 68 to finish second, while Cam Davis birdied the last for 70 and solo third at 271. Eric Cole attempting to strengthen his bid for the Arnold Palmer Award, finished another stroke back in fourth place after 70. Thomas, the somewhat controversial wild-card pick for Zach Johnson’s US Ryder Cup team, struggled early, hit only four fairways and settled for a 72 to finish fifth at 273.
World No. 7 Max Homa, the two-time defending champion, ended up T-7 at 13-under 275.
Homa, and everyone else in the field, had to feel like they were interlopers at Silverado with the Theegala faithful expending as much or more energy cheering outside the ropes as Sahith was giving inside them. And the young man noticed.
“Yeah, they meant everything. Just like the way I am, I kind of keep my head down and keep going and stay focused, but I secretly just loving the cheering,” he said. “It gets me fired up. And just knowing that I have that support no matter the good golf or the bad golf, they just have my back and I hope they know that I have their back, too.
“I can’t even express how I feel. It’s a team win. It’s not just a win for me, it’s a win for the whole family and everyone. Definitely going to celebrate.”
As if they hadn’t been doing that all week.