- The stellar performance at The Sentry, the Indian American golfers reach career-best rankings in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Indian American golfers Sahith Theegala and Akshay Bhatia have reached career-best rankings in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) after a stellar performance at the just concluded The Sentry. The calendar-year opening tournament of the PGA Tour season was played on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Jan. 4 through 7.
Theegala, 26, finished second, gaining 9.5 strokes to the field, and winning $2.16 million. Despite dominating the leaderboard on the first two days at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course, he eventually fell short of victory, with Chris Kirk able to hold off his challenge after heading into the final day with a one-shot lead.
Theegala, who got his first Tour title at the Fortinet Championship in September, has the lead after 18 holes for the second time in his career over a handful of players. He also set a personal record in the process, according to a post on X by the PGA Tour Communications account. He had “six consecutive birdies to move to 9-under through 15 holes,” the post read. He opened with 10 birdies on Jan. 4, and shot 9-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead over a bunched-up leaderboard on a low-scoring day thanks to calm conditions. He told Golfweek that his favorite birdie was the one at No. 12, which he “aimed at dead center and tried to hit it hard and hearted that putt, and that settled me down a little bit more.”
In a press conference on Sunday (Jan. 7), Theegala said he’s “really happy” with the result. Last year. He was hurt during the off-season, so he didn’t play any golf. “This year I got a lot of work in, in the gym, a lot of work in with my coach, and felt so ready for this event,” he said, according to ASAPtext.com, which provides transcript solutions from live and recorded audio. “Finishing second here is going to be a really nice boost for the rest of the West Coast Swing, and just to start off what I think is a pretty important year with a little bit of unknowns and everything that’s been going on, it’s nice to get started.”
Before entering the pro circuit, Theegala was a star player during his five years at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, where he was named Player of the Year. He was ranked among the Top 20 in the American Junior Golf Association or AJGA ranking. He was nominated for the 2022 Rookie of the Year (Arnold Palmer Award), along with Tom Kim, and Cameron Young.
Meanwhile, Bhatia, 21, one of the first-timers teeing it up the tournament, finished T14, although he was one off the lead after the third round. In what is being described as the second-best performance of his career, he gained 4.74 strokes putting.
Bhatia secured his spot after winning the Barracuda Championship this past fall. The win, which earned him full Tour status and a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs, came nearly four years after he turned professional. It was his 18th start of the season and 35th career as a professional on the PGA Tour.
On Jan. 7, the fourth and final day, he was one shot off the 54-hole leader Kirk, according to SB Nation, a sports blogging network owned by Vox Media. Noting that “first-time players struggle with the Plantation Course,” SB Nation credited Bhatia’s caddie, who knows the course. “I was pretty comfortable today, and I know my game’s really good,” he told the website on Jan. 6. “Obviously, made a putter change which has been a big help,” he said. “It’s been feeling really good.”
Bhatia had a distinguished junior career and was the first high-schooler to play on the U.S. Walker Cup team. Although colleges were lining up for his services, he decided to bypass a colligate career and turn pro at age 17 in 2019. But he had a rocky start. He first gained national attention in 2017 when he played with the winning team of the 2017 Junior Presidents Cup. At the Boys Junior PGA Championship, Bhatia, then 15, set several records.
He had a rocky start when he turned professional in September 2019. He made his PGA Tour debut at the Valspar Championship on a sponsorship exemption, but he missed the cut. That season (2019-2020), Bhatia missed making the cut in six tournaments. Right before turning professional, Bhatia won the 2019 Jones Cup Invitational.