Sahith Theegala made headlines earlier this week for having one of the biggest groups of family and friends in the field following his rounds at the WM Phoenix Open.
On Sunday at TPC Scottsdale, his gallery grew exponentially.
Despite being paired with Ryder Cuppers Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler in the lead threesome and battling superstars Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele in the group ahead, Theegala had the crowd chanting his name down the stretch.
Thee-ga-la! Thee-ga-la! Thee-ga-la!
Having quickly become a fan favorite, Theegala, the unassuming and affable 24-year-old rookie who starred collegiately at Pepperdine, nearly turned the positive energy into his first career PGA Tour victory.
In fact, Theegala arguably came within a few feet of his maiden title.
Tied with Cantlay for the lead at 16 under with two holes to play, Theegala hit what appeared to be a beautiful 3-wood off the tee at the drivable par-4 17th hole, his ball cutting right at the flag. However, the ball landed on a hump some 20 yards short of the green and took a hard kick left, rolling across the left portion of the green and into the water.
Theegala then failed to get up and down, missing a 14-footer for par. Needing to birdie the last to have a shot at making a playoff, he missed the green after having to hack out of the right rough but then almost chipped in.
“I thought I hit a great shot on 17,” Theegala said. “It was cutting. As long as it's another yard right, I think that's perfect. Kick straight and it's good. Kicked left into the water there. Then I was worried about the ball. It was such a steep slope, I was worried about the ball kind of rolling back, so I maybe rushed my process just a little bit there and hit a poor chip and hit a poor putt. I just didn't hit the shots at the right time when it counted.
“But definitely proud of the way I played this week.”
The perspective was important. Theegala had contended on Tour once before, leading after each of the first three rounds of last fall’s Sanderson Farms Championship before slipping to T-8. But on Sunday, he had “stuck with it” better and given himself a chance despite, admittedly, not having his best ball-striking stuff.
Still, for a player who knows what it’s like to win – he did so four times at Pepperdine and won the Haskins Award his senior year as college golf’s best player – he was naturally gutted.
“I think I'll have plenty of time to think about it on my drive back home,” said Theegala, who has driven his Volkswagen Passat to every tournament on the West Coast Swing – some 2,000 miles – and is in the field for next week’s Genesis Open in his native Los Angeles. “But definitely excited for what the rest of the year holds.”
After eight post-round questions, Theegala headed out of the flash area and right into his parents’ arms. He had already gotten choked up during his interview with the assembled media, but this time he let it all out.
It was OK; he had tried his best – and he had gained many new fans in the process.
“That's awesome that they feel like I'm somebody they can root for,” Theegala said. “Yeah, it means a lot to me, and hopefully I can keep being someone that they can root for.”