Monthly Archives: September 2022

Sahith Theegala’s quest for his first PGA TOUR win


JACKSON, Miss. – Sahith Theegala had qualified for his first Open Championship appearance, The 150th Open at St. Andrews, as a PGA TOUR rookie.

He earned a spot at the Home of Golf as an alternate via the Official World Golf Ranking (No. 62 at the time), a remarkable rise considering he was a year removed from zero status on either the PGA TOUR or Korn Ferry Tour.

St. Andrews is largely defined by its robust bunkering; a hole can be endlessly strategized based on wind direction, firmness, club selection and other factors.

Theegala is a chess enthusiast; he freely shares his username (it’s srtheegala) and gladly accepts challenges.

So when he and caddie Carl Smith mapped out their strategy for St. Andrews, the comparison was inevitable.

“I’ve joked all year with Carl, ‘It’s chess, not checkers,’” Theegala laughed in advance of this week’s Sanderson Farms Championship. “We were out at St. Andrews plotting the bunkers, ‘It’s chess, not checkers, Carl.’”

Theegala has long applied the “chess, not checkers” mindset in his rise through the golf ranks. After suffering a wrist injury as a senior at Pepperdine in fall 2018, he returned for a fifth year. The following season, without an opportunity to compete at Q-School due to the COVID-19 pandemic-induced combined season, he went about earning enough non-member FedExCup Points to qualify for the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, in which he earned his first TOUR card.

Theegala qualified for last month’s TOUR Championship as a first-year PGA TOUR member, his season kick-started by a T8 at the Sanderson Farms Championship, where he led through 54 holes at the Country Club of Jackson. He cooled down in a final-round 71 to finish three back of winner Sam Burns, but the golf world was put on notice.

Playing out of the Korn Ferry Tour graduate category, Theegala needed that top-10 in Mississippi just to earn a spot in the following week’s Shriners Children’s Open. Now by virtue of his top-30 finish on the 2022 FedExCup, he’s fully exempt for the next two seasons on TOUR.

Theegala returns to the Country Club of Jackson as a second-year TOUR member and with the second-best odds to win, behind only Burns. He recalls looking at his tournament odds early last season and seeing, “I was near last out of every field.” Now the public expects him to break through any week.

Rather than shying away from the expectations, he’s relishing them.

“Max Homa just talked about it at the Fortinet (Championship), being the odds-on favorite there … in previous years, he said he would use that as extra pressure. Now he’s taking it head-on and being like, ‘Dang, that’s cool that I’m the favorite of the tournament. Let’s go get this thing done,’” Theegala said. “That’s pretty cool to see. It’s cool to know (my odds) are up there.

“Golf is such a crazy game; it’s just a hard game. There are very few times in golf where you’re truly happy. Trying to strive toward accomplishing stuff that maybe personally I didn’t think was possible a few years ago, now I do think is possible. The constant drive to get better; I do feel a little bit of that is almost an intangible, inherent love for the game … There’s something over getting the next hurdle that’s just so satisfying.”

In his first year as a TOUR member, Theegala was close. After his near-miss at the Sanderson Farms Championship, he played his way into another 54-hole lead at the WM Phoenix Open, long known as one of the TOUR’s most stadium-like settings.

Looking back, he describes it as “playing in front of 10 million people.” With several family and friends in attendance, he attempted to drive the green on the short par-4 17th but pulled it slightly left, the ball finding a greenside pond. He made bogey, followed by a closing par to finish one back of a Scottie Scheffler-Patrick Cantlay playoff.

He was devastated but reflects on the experience as a season highlight nonetheless.

“It was crazy how many people were there,” Theegala said. “That’s going to be a memory that I’m never going to forget. Still hurts. It’s going to hurt. People have said, ‘Oh, if you ever win …

“No. It’s still going to hurt, no matter what. But it was such a special week. Really kept me going for the rest of the year.”

He finished fifth at the Memorial presented by Workday and was runner-up at the Travelers Championship, making double bogey on the 72nd hole at TPC River Highlands to finish two back of Xander Schauffele.

But the lanky, oft-smiling California native has kept fighting. He rebounded from an opening 74 at the following week’s John Deere Classic to finish T16, and he made the cut at The Open en route to a T34. He added two more top-15s to close his first TOUR season, and he arrives in Mississippi fresh off a T6 at the 2022-23 season-opening Fortinet Championship.

Theegala didn’t watch much of last week’s Presidents Cup, aside from a bit of Sunday Singles. He understands the noise that he was a popular candidate for a captain’s pick, but he doesn’t believe he earned a spot on the team. That sentiment – believing he didn’t earn his spot – fuels him.

He’ll have more chances to represent the U.S. Team. He’ll take the long view.

“The energy was incredible,” Theegala said of the Presidents Cup. “I love how the guys are so into it. I’ve never played on any (U.S.) team .. I didn’t play on a junior golf (national) team or the Walker Cup, so I have a little chip on my shoulder. I wasn’t good enough to make those, so I might as well try to make one in the future.

“I love to use anything as fuel to the fire, so I think the reason I didn’t watch the first couple days, using it as more fuel. I don’t think I earned my way onto the team at all, and I wasn’t close on points or anything like that, but it’s definitely something I’ll use as motivation moving forward.”

Chess, not checkers.


By: PGA Staff

  • CHARLOTTE, NC – After two high intensity days of competition, the United States team has again emerged victorious as they claim the 2022 Junior Presidents Cup by a score of 13-11. Winning eight matches and getting a half point in another lead to a third straight victory for the US squad.

    The Junior Presidents Cup is a two-day, team match-play competition featuring 24 of the world’s top junior boys 19 years old and younger – 12 from the United States and 12 from around the world, excluding Europe – that takes place just days before the start of the biennial Presidents Cup. The Junior Presidents Cup was developed to give the world’s best non-European juniors a unique playing opportunity to compete in an international team match-play competition and showcase the global reach of junior golf.

    “To see these teams come out and to see how much it meant to both sides is really something special,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “I think this event is an important part of the Presidents Cup. When you think about the future of golf, it is these players. Many of them will be playing in the Presidents Cup in the future and we are happy to help prepare them for it with this event.”

    Set in the historic Myers Park neighborhood south of Charlotte, Myers Park Country Club opened in 1921 and debuted its Donald-Ross designed layout in 1944. In 1945, Byron Nelson began his record 11-tournament winning streak at Myers Park Country Club, with his victory at the Charlotte Open giving the club significant national notoriety. Ten years later, Myers Park Country Club added to its championship golf resume by hosting the 1955 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

    “I’m just so excited for the 12 players on my team,” United States Captain, Notah Begay III said. “They did such a wonderful job to come together on such a great golf course at Myers Park Country Club and it came down to the last couple matches, which is what you want. To come out on top is something really special and something we will be celebrating for the rest of the afternoon.”

    The United States entered the final day of competition down 7.5-4.5 after six four-ball matches and six foursomes matches. Having an uphill climb to again win the cup meant they needed to start the day with some wins. They took home a full point in four of the first six matches and split another to begin their comeback.

    Among those six matches was a solid win by Preston Stout of Richardson, Texas, who defeated the International’s Joshua Bai of New Zealand, 4&2. The US also got wins in the first six matches from Jackson Koivun of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Nicholas Gross of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and Aaron Pounds of The Woodlands, Texas.

    The second half of matches saw the United States dominate winning four of the six, with only one match making it to 18. Among the wins was the biggest margin of victory of the competition as Bryan Kim of Brookeville, Maryland, defeated the International’s Jonathan Xavier Hartono of Indonesia, 6&5. The US also got a big win from Carson Kim of Yorba Linda, California, who defeated Rayhan Abdul Latief of Indonesia, 5&3.

    Kim was the only player throughout the competition who won all three of his matches. On Monday he was paired with Pounds for a four-ball match and defeated Rayhan Abdul Latief of Indonesia, and Hartono, 3&1. In the afternoon on Monday he was paired with Koivun in a foursomes match. They defeated the International team of Bai and Jayden Ford of New Zealand, 3&1. Throughout his three matches, he never played No. 18 as they all finished on No. 17 or before.

The epic slumps and epic comebacks of Max Homa and Michael Kim


NAPA, Calif. – Michael Kim and Max Homa, who will play together along with Cameron Champ in the first and second rounds of the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort & Spa, sometimes regard their college years with a pinch of nostalgia.

The Cal teammates hit fairways, made birdies. It was a simpler time. They roomed together on the road, and when Kim, who moved to America from Korea when he was 12, spoke to his parents on the phone, Homa couldn’t catch a word of it. At other times, though, Kim would slow it way down as he dictated simple Korean phrases into his phone.

“He’s going to be so mad I’m telling people this,” Homa said with a grin. “… He starts recording something on his phone and it would be like me saying like – ‘I drove my car to the store’ in Korean. I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m in this Korean 101 class that I’m not supposed to know, I’m not supposed to be fluent in this.’”

Ah, the college years. But what followed for Homa and Kim was no laughing matter. Each made it to the TOUR only to fall apart in his mid-20s, lose his TOUR card, and slog through a bewildering odyssey in the golfing wilderness.

The game, once so simple, got complicated. Homa missed 15 cuts in 2015, played on the Korn Ferry Tour in ’16, and missed 15 cuts again in ’17, when he dropped to 244th in the FedExCup.

“He’s way too good a player to lose his card,” Rory McIlroy said of Homa at the Wells Fargo Championship in May.

True enough. Homa, the defending champion at the Fortinet, is still in the afterglow of a career-best two-win season and fifth-place finish in the FedExCup. Last week U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Davis Love III named him among his six picks to help round out the team that will take on the Internationals at Quail Hollow Club next week.

Now it’s Kim’s turn to come back. He parted ways with longtime swing coach James Oh to go with John Tillery just three weeks before the 2018 John Deere Classic, which he then won by eight shots. It was a happy day, with Kim having shot 27 under to lap the field, but when asked in his press conference afterward about the recent coaching change he burst into tears.

“You feel like you’ve gone to war with a guy for years,” Kim said Wednesday, “and I started seeing (Oh) when I was 15, and he’s the one who had really helped me get on TOUR. That was three weeks after I had told him, and it felt like 90 percent of the work we had done for that win was with James, and maybe the last 10 percent was with J.T., but it was going to be looked at as J.T. came in and fixed everything. I felt bad that people were going to look at it that way.”

What’s more, as Kim sat there before the press, the trophy won and a life goal realized, he harbored a bizarre secret: Other than that one week at TPC Deere Run, he wasn’t playing well.

“I was still struggling even that year,” he said. “I wasn’t playing great, I just got hot at the perfect moment and the stars aligned for me. I got caught up in the trendy thing in the golf swing and tried to quote, unquote take the hands out of it. Growing up, a lot of my feel was in my hands. Tiger Woods talks about his hands. I lost that.”

Kim’s freefall was dizzying. He made it to the weekend just once in two years, at one point missing 25 consecutive cuts. He fell outside the top 1,000 in the world. By abandoning the right-to-left tee shot that found fairways and allowed for the fullest expression of his above-average wedges and short game, he became utterly, hopelessly lost.

“It might have been a technical thing at first, but I think it became a mental thing,” said Michael Weaver, a Cal teammate who briefly played on the Korn Ferry Tour. “I was a fill-in caddie for him at the 3M Open in 2019, and he played with Smylie Kaufman and Austin Cook, and I felt bad for Austin because Smylie and Michael were hitting it all over the place.”

Kaufman is now a golf broadcaster, and for a time it was anything but certain Kim would make his way out of the williwags. He parted with Tillery and tried his luck with various other coaches, including George Gankas, but nothing stuck. His friends tried to buck up his spirits, telling him they still believed in him even as the cuts piled up.

“Every time I asked him, ‘Where are you playing next?’ I was prepared to hear, ‘I might not play for a while,’” Weaver said. “You work so hard to build up your confidence and then it all goes badly and you’re like, I used to be good at this and now I suck. I wouldn’t fault anyone for shutting it down; it’s a natural reaction to not being able to find your way out.”

Kim saw flashes of form, but they could vanish even as he made the turn. “I was really dejected because on the front nine you have that hope,” he said, “and then it’s a crash all over again.” He got a slight reprieve from Covid, the pandemic extending his status a year and saving him from a return to Korn Ferry Tour Q School.

After Monday-qualifying for the Fortinet last year, he tapped Weaver to caddie for him again.

“He hit it in the condos on one,” Weaver said.

It looked like the same old stuff, but just a few weeks earlier Kim had begun working with was Sean Foley, who diagnosed the problem: Kim had gotten away from his swing DNA and what made him great in the first place.

“Sean said, ‘We needed to get you swinging a little more like you did as a kid, with similar feels and tweaks here and there,’” Kim said, “and that’s how we started. We were still making the transition last year. It was all very new.”

Slowly, methodically, Kim clawed his way back. He started the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour season with a pair of missed cuts, but a T15 at The Panama Championship in February provided hope. He texted Foley: This was going to work.

Kim racked up 12 top-25 finishes in 25 starts to regain his PGA TOUR card. He also shared the first-round lead at the Puerto Rico Open (T16) and finished seventh at the Barbasol Championship. Today, he feels like he has a new lease on life.

“I mean obviously it would be great if I went to see Sean first,” he said. “I’ve come to believe it’s more about your fit with your instructor and does his swing philosophy fit with what you have.”

Without the last four years, though, he added, he might not be the same player he is today.

“I don’t think I’d be as excited and have a fresh perspective on playing the PGA TOUR,” he said. “You go through the ups and downs and you appreciate it more.”

Homa could say the same. His eyes got a little teary Wednesday as he talked about the journey from his very first PGA TOUR start to making his first U.S. Presidents Cup Team, and the ups and downs along the way.
For the two Cal Bears who will reunite at Silverado, the struggle makes it all the sweeter.