After the third round of the Safeway Open at the Silverado Resort in Napa this weekend, Pepperdine alum Sahith Theegala was 13 under, just three strokes off the lead.
In Sunday’s final round at the Silverado Resort, PGA Tour rookie Theegala shot a 70 to finish at 15 under in the first tournament of the 2020-21 season. He finished tied for 14th, six shots behind the 47-year-old winner, Stewart Cink, who closed with rounds of 65-65.
The good news for Theegala is that he earned $100,650 for his efforts, but he was frustrated by the way he played the 72nd hole. He had birdied 16 and 17, and the final hole was a par-5, which means birdie for many pros.
Unfortunately, Theegala shot bogey. Had he birdied the hole, he would have tied with two players who each took home $214,500.
Still, Theegala showed that he has the game to compete on the PGA Tour. On Friday, he birdied the final three holes to shoot 68 and make the 36-hole cut by one stroke. Then on Saturday he birdied eight holes and finished with a sizzling 64.
In February 2017, Theegala was low scorer in the Genesis Open Collegiate Showcase at the Riviera, which allowed him to play in his first PGA tournament.
Theegala, 19, was paired with Wesley Bryan and Kelly Kraft (a second-place finisher at Pebble Beach the week before). Since college golfers don’t have a caddy, Theegala asked Jason Tuck, the assistant golf coach at Diamond Bar High (where Theegala went to school), to carry his bag.
Once on the course, Theegala didn’t let the pressure bother him. “I don’t think,” he said. “I just hit the next ball.”
At the end of 36 holes, Theegala was tied for 40th at 2-under 140 with Michelson (who has won five major championships) and J.B. Holmes (a four-time PGA Tour winner). Theegala and Michelson had identical opening rounds of 67-73.
Theegala was a three-time NCAA All-American at Pepperdine, and received the Division I Nicklaus Award when he graduated this spring. He accepted the award by way of Zoom from his parents’ house in Chino Hills.
In June, he was awarded the Ben Hogan Award, given by Friends of Golf and The Golf Coaches Association of America to the best college golf player in the U.S.
Also in June, at age 22, Theegala played in his first post-collegiate PGA Tour events, the Travelers Championship and the Rocket Mortgage Classic, missing the cut by four strokes and three strokes, respectively.
Theegala, who is 6-3, told this Circling the News editor in 2017 story that “I love all sports. I played basketball until my freshman year of high school. I was a pretty good shooter and I’m also pretty good at sand volleyball.”
His father, Muralidhar, and his mother, Karuna, immigrated from Hyderabad, India and their son started his golf career at the age of three, swinging plastic golf clubs in the living room. He was a young phenom, like Tiger Woods, winning world golf championships at age 6, 8 and 10.
With Theegala leading the way, Diamond Bar High School won or shared the league golf title four years and captured CIF Southern Section titles in 2012 and 2013. Theegala also made the honor roll every year.
In a July 2020 Golf Magazine story (“Nicklaus Award Winner Sahith Theegala Sahith Taking ‘Mamba Mentality’ to the Pro Ranks”), he said that Kobe Bryant was his idol. “I have always said that if I could get a little percentage of his Mamba Mentality, I would be great. I still don’t think I’ve even succeeded in getting 10 percent of that. I don’t think anyone will. The guy just had insane willpower … but I definitely keep that in the back of my mind. Especially when times are tough.”
Bryant once said, “Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most. It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit. It started just as a hashtag that came to me one day, and it’s grown into something athletes — and even non-athletes — embrace as a mindset.”