CROMWELL Conn. — Golf can be cruel.
Sahith Theegala walked to TPC River Highland's 18th tee with a one-stoke lead over Xander Schauffele and his maiden PGA Tour victory in sight.
Then the unfortunate happened.
After Theegala, a 24-year-old Tour rookie, hit his "perfect" tee shot into the left fairway bunker, he knew he still had a chance to win the Travelers Championship with a par. However, he thinned his second shot into the bank of bunker, his ball settling back into the sand.
"Never in a million years did I think I would allow myself to blade it," Theegala said after his round. "All I had to do was chunk it. (My caddie and I) even said, 'Like, this is a 50/50 ball in terms of I got to try and just basically hit it just a hair behind it.' Somehow my body just, I just straight bladed it. I had room there. I don't know how it looked, but I had room there. Just didn't think I would let myself blade it.
"But I guess the moment was — and then from there it's, like, 'Got to try and make 5 now.' Had a little more room. And I did the same thought process. I nearly bladed it again."
His second attempt out of the bunker went 43 yards and Theegala was 82 yards from the hole. He nearly made 5, but his 13-foot bogey putt lipped out, again sucking the air out of the very pro-Theegala crowd. Even if he made the putt, it might not have mattered. Schauffele, who went on to win, later birdied the hole.
Theegala, however, still managed to find positives after heartbreak.
"Just going to grow from it," he said. "I feel like I'm playing really well and if I just keep doing the same, keep loving the game. I love the process. I've never loved it more than I have now. So, yeah, I'm just I'm really excited to see if I can do it again, keep putting myself in these positions."
Theegala has tasted victory before. He held the 54-hole Sanderson Farms Championship lead, but finished T-8. He also held the three-day WM Phoenix Open lead, but placed T-3.
With what he learned from those experiences, Theegala said he did "everything I thought I had to do and it just happened to be everything bad culminated on one hole." Still, he dreams of playing late on Sundays, like he did today. And if Theegala follows his "process" as he did this week in Connecticut, that coveted first win may soon come.
"[Theegala] was right there again and today and then in Arizona," Schauffele said when asked if he had any advice for Theegala after Sunday's heartbreak. "So he knows he can play to a level that will win out here on Tour and that's sort of — I think I don't need to tell him anything. I think he just needs to keep knocking on that door until he breaks that thing down."