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Californian Sahith Theegala Wants to Break the Mold of a Stereotypical Golfer

Californian Sahith Theegala Wants to Break the Mold of a Stereotypical Golfer

  • The 22-year-old Indian American is currently playing his second PGA tour in Detroit.

Indo-Fijian golfer Vijay Singh has made a name for himself in a sport that’s  known to have a few non-white players who’ve made it to the top. In 2004-2005, Singh held the number one position in the Official World Golf Ranking for 32 weeks, and became a force to reckon with in the sport. 

Like Singh, there’s an Indian American youngster who wants to break the mold of a stereotypical golfer. Meet Sahith Theegala, a 22-year-old from California, who is currently playing his second Professional Golfers’ Association or PGA Tour at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, Michigan. 

Whether Theegala, one of the top level college golfers in the country, becomes another Vijay Singh, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, Theegala has talent, as well as optimism. Prior to entering the pro circuit, Theegala was a star player during his five years at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He was ranked among the Top 20 in the American Junior Golf Association or AJGA ranking.

“In light of what’s going on, I’m proud of who I am and what I’m adding to the golf community in terms of diversity,” he told the New York Times. “Ultimately, we’re all trying to do the same thing in pro golf and that’s make a successful career. Hopefully there is some inspiration behind that, for people who watch me and realize that you don’t have to be the stereotypical white golfer.”

His father, Muralidhar Theegala, who immigrated to the U.S. from Hyderabad, is hopeful, as well. “I always believed that my boy is something special,” he told the New York Times. “Hopefully things work out, and by the grace of God, he’ll do wonderful. But I believe that he was born to do something great.”

Pride in his Indian Heritage

In an in-depth profile, the New York Times reveals that Theegala grew up in a typical Indian American family “that emphasized academics and was enthralled by American sports,” particularly, basketball.  He grew up becoming a lifelong Lakers fan.

There were frequent trips to India as well, “at least once every two years,” to visit paternal and maternal grandparents. 

According to the New York Times report, Theegala’s maternal grandmother came to the U.S. to help his mother, her daughter, Karuna, who was suffering from thyroid cancer. Since then The New York Times says Theegala’s grandmother, Vijaya Laxmi, has spent six months in California and six months back in India. “I’m definitely very proud of my background and my Indian heritage,” Theegala said. “But when I’m around my friends and other golfers, it’s not something that I think about.”

Along with academics and spending time with family and friends, and his love for basketball and the Lakers, Theegala always found time for golf, which has been a pivotal part if his life. He graduated from Diamond Bar High School in 2015, where he was on the All-Sierra League first team all four years. He was the Sierra League’s Athlete of the Year as a senior and the League MVP as a junior.

Nation’s Top College Golfer

Last year, Theegala, then a student at  Pepperdine, received the Fred Haskins Award, an honor recognizing the nation’s top college player. He is the first player from the university to get this coveted award. 

It’s no wonder that Theegala’s golf record made him a sought after asset by a lot of schools, but Golf Digest reported that he committed to Pepperdine, because “playing at a mid-major, albeit in glamorous Malibu, and staying close to home was more Theegala’s speed.” 

On the college website, Theegala writes that he chose to attend Pepperdine because of “the amazing coaches, great location, awesome campus, close to home, the school’s small feel, the good academics and the great golf facilities.”

Golfweek says, Theegala, a sport administration major, developed a reputation “for intentionally hitting high-handicap shots before tournaments – shanks, tops, chunks, slices, hooks, you name it – all in an effort to throw off his opponents.” 

During his five years at the university, Golfweek says “Theegala took the reigns of the Pepperdine program and showed the nation his talent.” Golfweek says, Theegala, a sport administration major, developed a reputation “for intentionally hitting high-handicap shots before tournaments – shanks, tops, chunks, slices, hooks, you name it – all in an effort to throw off his opponents.” 

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He helped the school reach their first-ever number one regular-season ranking in program history during the 2019-2020 season. The season was cut short because of the pandemic, but it ended the season ranked number one in the Bushnell/Golfweek coaches poll and by Golfstat.

In his senior year at Pepperdine, Theegala was the top-ranked player in the nation by both Golfstat and Golfweek/Sagarin when the season ended. He was named to All-American first teams by both the GCAA/PING and Golfweek magazine.

According to a university press release, Theegala holds Pepperdine’s career records for scoring average (70.61) and below-par rounds (74).

A Senior Year With Challenges 

Theegala’s favorite thing about golf, according to information on Pepperdine website is that even though the sport may not necessarily require the most physical ability, it needs “mental toughness,” to play it “at a high level,” and “requires your attention all the time.” During is golf career he did face a few setbacks, especially during his senior year. 

In January 2019, Theegala had a wrist surgery and missed 10 months. The Golf Channel reported then that “the long layoff, however, matured Theegala, giving him better perspective, making him a better teammate.” Despite not being able to play, he insisted on traveling with the team to regionals and nationals that year. He returned to playing in June 2019 with a tournament at Sunnehanna Country Club in Pennsylvania. 

Earlier this year, a few days after Kobe Bryant, Theegala’s childhood hero, died in a plane crash on Jan. 26, he played the Southwestern Invitational at North Ranch Country Club in West Village, California. Bryant’s helicopter reportedly crashed less than a mile from Theegala’s apartment.

Golf Channel reported that during that tournament, Theegala wore Bryant’s jersey for the final two putts, “followed that performance with a truly Mamba-like run – top-6s in three of the spring’s toughest events, the Amer Ari, Prestige and Southern Highlands.” He later told the Golf Channel that “there were so many stars that seemed to align perfectly for this year to be our year.”

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