If you follow college golf, you already know Sahith Theegala, the 2019 Fred Haskins and Ben Hogan player of the year who had his senior season at Pepperdine cut short by COVID-19.
The Waves were ranked no. 1 that spring, but Theegala and his teammates never got to play for a national title, which left him with a tough choice: Come back for another season or leave and go pro? The uncertainty stemming from the pandemic made things even tougher, and when he eventually decided to leave school, he had to start his career on the Outlaw Tour. A year and change later, two things are true: He’s ranked 454th in the world, and he’s leading the Sanderson Farms Championship heading into Sunday.
Theegala earned his tour card for 2021-22 with a scintillating late run on the Korn Ferry Tour, finishing T-4 at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship and solo sixth at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, and while he only managed 47th at last week’s season-opening Fortinet Championship, it’s clear his form remains scorching in Mississippi. With two straight 67s after his opening 64, Theegala stands at 18 under, one shot clear of Cameron Tringale, Denny McCarthy, Sam Burns, and Cameron Young. In the process of establishing that tight lead, things got a little weird. Witness, for instance, this outrageous, uhhh … “fade”:
That right there is why shot tracer was invented, folks. But the strangest moment of all came on the 15th hole, with a lip-out that flirted so hard with the hole that they’re practically engaged:
By our reckoning, that’s more than a full 360 spin-out, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.
Of course, it wasn’t all oddities. Theegala’s bogey-free round included three straight birdies from holes 10 through 12, in which the total combined putt length was about 15 feet. In other words, the man was sticking his approaches, and that’s been true all week; in 54 holes, he’s got one bogey to his name. He’ll be the first to admit, though, that he was lucky to come through the last few holes unscathed.
“I hit some wild drives, I mean, way right, so was really happy to escape with a couple pars,” he said. “It just felt like a grind those last five, six holes there … definitely a little nerves in there for sure, but I think people have said before, pressure’s a privilege and I’m trying to use those nerves to my advantage.”
What to expect on Sunday? Fireworks. In one of his amateur victories, which Theegala referenced Saturday, he started his final round with five-shot lead, made three bogeys and two double bogeys in his first seven holes, then finished the front with eagle-birdie and somehow came out on top. We may not know much about Theegala yet, but we already know he’s not boring.
Is it time for Cameron Tringale’s breakthrough?
It feels weird to say that Tringale is 34 years old, because in our hearts he’ll always be Rickie Fowler’s cool young roommate. But facts are facts, and Tringale is now an honest-to-goodness veteran. He’s also something of a journeyman—he made one Tour Championship, in 2014, and he won the Franklin Templeton Shootout with Jason Day that winter—but beyond that he’s existed on the periphery, better known for the aforementioned affiliation with Fowler than anything else. But the 2020-21 season was one of the best of his career, with four top-10s and a final ranking of 43rd.
It’s hard to say that anyone “deserves” a win, because, to quote “Unforgiven,” deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it. But it does feel like Tringale has at least put in the hours, days, months, and years. On Saturday, he tied his best career round with a 62, and in the process he completely obliterated the par 5s:
He’s a shot off Theegala’s lead, and in a fall tournament where Sunday’s winner will inevitably have to go very low, nobody has more momentum. Sunday could be a very big day in his career and life, and if it happens, well … it’s been a long time coming.
Seth Reeves is on fire, but his more pressing problem? Dad life.
Reeves has had a topsy turvy couple years, or, if you want, a topsy-turvy career. The 30-year-old Georgia Tech alum got his first real crack at the PGA Tour in 2019, but beyond a top-10 at this very tournament, he couldn’t get any traction. Back on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020, he missed six straight cuts just before catching lightning in a bottle and winning the Pinnacle Bank Championship.
That was enough to propel him back to the PGA Tour, and after a Saturday 63, he’s at 16 under with a chance for a big finish. That would be a very big deal, but an even bigger deal happened two months ago, when his first child was born. Now, Reeves is trying to figure out how to live the family life on tour, and it sounds like he’ll take advice from just about anyone.
“I still don’t really understand what it’s like,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe I’m a dad, but it gives you perspective. And the travel seems a little tougher, so far, but I think you just get the hang of it.
“All the guys out here, a lot of them have families and so that’s really what I’m asking for advice for now, I’m asking any of these guys that I know just help me out with traveling with a baby and a kid and playing this game with a family now. So it’s a whole new world and I’m trying to figure it out, but that’s where golf’s nice to just come out here and focus on something … eventually I’ll learn how to make it work playing golf and being a dad on the road.”
As someone who doesn’t play professional golf, but has watched PGA Tour victory celebrations for years, may I just say … go low on Sunday, Seth. Everyone loves a winner holding a baby.
The most-watched golfer on Saturday wasn’t at the Sanderson …
…and that’s because Harris English was invited to be the guest picker on ESPN’s “College GameDay.” Watch him rile up his Dawgs by putting some recent bling on display:
English, of course, is a Georgia alum, and had to be gratified a few minutes later when the legend sitting to his left, Lee Corso, threw on the giant dog head:
For what it’s worth, Georgia put a hurting on Arkansas, 37-0. That’s a Team USA-at-Whistling-Straits-level drubbing right there.
The “hope this fan was sincere” moment of the day
I want to believe she meant it:
If only we could all be inspired this easily.