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Despite low finish at East Lake, Sahith Theegala couldn't be happier

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ATLANTA – Sahith Theegala might have finished next to last at the Tour Championship, but just like the payout at East Lake, it was really a bonus.

“Me and Scott [Stallings] were just talking about [how] you’re never going to find two happier people who just finished dead last,” the 24-year-old Theegala said after Sunday's final round.

After a long season where he played 32 of 45 Tour events, Theegala, one of two PGA Tour rookies at East Lake along with Cameron Young, wrapped his rookie season with a 1-over 281 after 72 holes. He birdied the par-3 15th to get to even par for the day, but an unfortunate lip-out followed on the par-4 17th, sealing the next to last position in the 29-man field.

He might lose out on Rookie of the Year honors to Young, but the Pepperdine Golf alum made 80% of his cuts this season, notching three top-5s, five top-10s and 11 top-25s. Most notably, he nearly won in Phoenix and at Travelers before late miscues.

“Just the fact that I was here and playing … I couldn’t really imagine it at the start of the season – even later on in the season,” said Theegala, who had just one top-10 after the fall. “I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I was just so gassed coming in. I really didn’t play that well the last couple weeks, and I just scored the crap out of it somehow and kind of willed my way into this week.”

By simply finishing in the top 30 in the FedExCup rankings, Theegala also guaranteed himself over $500,000 in bonus money and an invite into three of the four major championships (except the PGA Championship, which, at No. 58 in the world rankings, he should have no issues qualifying for next year), including what will be his first Masters appearance next April.

That last one is still a bit baffling for Theegala.

“I don’t think that’s going to soak in until I get that letter in the mail,” Theegala said. “When I get the letter and open it, it’s like, oh, well this is incredible.”

Full-field scores from Tour Championship

Theegala is also an outside shot to make the U.S. Presidents Cup team, which finalized its automatic qualifiers last week. U.S. captain Davis Love III has six more captain’s picks to make on Sept. 7. Theegala is No. 30 in the current rankings. At least two players ahead of him are rumored to be leaving for LIV Golf in the coming weeks, and Will Zalatoris is out because of a back injury.

It’s still a long shot, but they are captain’s picks for a reason.

“I’d be very surprised if I was even in the discussion,” Theegala admitted. “I think there’s guys that have played way better than me and that are more deserving for sure.”

When Theegala stepped out of the scoring building on Sunday, he got a slap on the back from his playing partner, Stallings, and a line of fans, two to three people deep, were waiting for his autograph. A year ago, while preparing for the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, he never imagined this would be his life.

The scorecard wasn’t the prettiest, but there was still a smile on Theegala’s face as he walked to the clubhouse.

Grateful to be able to play the sport he loves. Excited for a promising future. Rookie no more.