ORLANDO, Fla. — Scottie Scheffler earned his first PGA Tour title in a playoff over Patrick Cantlay three weeks ago at the mammoth celebration known as the WM Phoenix Open.
On the same day, golf fans’ hearts and minds were won by rookie Sahith Theegala. In the star-studded event, the 24-year-old had slept on the lead for three nights in a row and wasn’t withering in the Arizona heat on the final day.
In search of his first PGA Tour victory, the Pepperdine graduate stepped up to the tee of the drivable 17th hole and struck a flawless tee shot. The ball took a vicious bounce to the left, into the lake by the green, until it wasn’t.
The bogey that followed earned him a tie for third, his greatest finish on the PGA Tour, and a loud ovation from the crowd on the 18th green.
“THEE-GA-LA, THEE-GA-LA, THEE-GA-LA,” says the narrator.
While his Cinderella narrative fell short, the down-to-earth Theegala left TPC Scottsdale with his chest out and his head held high, shedding a few tears with his parents and 15 other family members on hand.
Sahith wins over Scottsdale. 💚
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 15, 2022
“That was a really wonderful experience,” Theegala said Tuesday, a day before the Arnold Palmer Invitational gets underway at Bay Hill Lodge and Club on Thursday. “It’s fantastic that so many people were rooting for me. But it also gave me a lot of confidence because I put myself in a pretty excellent position to win the tournament.”
Despite a bad break on 17 and finishing one shot short of a playoff, he didn’t complain. Theegala has faced adversity in the past. He missed ten months of tournament play due to a wrist injury he sustained in college. COVID-19 got in the way when he went pro.
“Being injured, especially an injury like that, not being able to play tournament golf for ten months, it gave me a different perspective,” he added. “I simply realized that life isn’t golf and golf isn’t life, and that no matter what I do in life, I have a lot of fantastic people behind me.”
— Adam Schupak (@AdamSchupak) February 14, 2022
“That was definitely a perspective shift for me, and it was the greatest golf I’d ever played after I recovered from the injury and made a few swing tweaks to help my body out a little bit.”
“I believe a lot of it had to do with mindset.”
His mentality is still positive. He has two top-10 finishes and two missed cuts in 12 races this season. After coming so close in Phoenix, he drove 512 miles to Los Angeles the next week to compete in the Genesis Invitational, where he tied for 48th. For Theegala, who still lives with his parents in Orange County, California, this is nothing out of the ordinary. He drove his 2015 Passat 2,700 miles to every west coast tournament. He even joked about driving all the way from the west coast to Orlando.
Instead, he flew to Orlando in style and is currently driving a GMC Denali.
He said, in a pleasant way, “It’s so disgusting.”
One of the reasons the friendly guy with the easy smile is in a good mood is because of this. He’s happy to be a part of a tournament with such a rich history and a name that includes Arnold Palmer. And the course immediately put a smile on his face.
“Gosh, I’m obviously overjoyed to be here.” “Coming to this golf course with all the history and stuff behind it, there’s definitely a particular vibe,” he added. “It’s also probably one of the purest courses I’ve ever played, so that helps.”
“I’m really looking forward to this week. “Having a week off made me even more eager to be here.”