The Sahith Theegala bandwagon's been chugging for a little while now. It picked up its first wave of newcomers about 18 months ago, when he hung around all day at the WM Phoenix Open before a nasty bounce doomed his tournament on the 71st hole. His sui generis swing, easy-going demeanor and boisterous cheering section jumped off the screen. Theegala's presence is infectious, his warmth palpable. Watch him a few times on TV and you feel like you've known him for years. Netflix's "Full Swing" did a great job highlighting his upbringing and how different it is from the central casting PGA Tour block—the child of Indian immigrants, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Chino, Calif., (a nod to the greatest television show, The OC) with a serious nerdy streak and a golf swing you won't find in any instruction manual.
But it's a golf swing that works, and always has. I remember my first exposure to Theegala. I was playing in a junior golf event in Southern California and I remember perusing the leaderboard after the first round. The board would show your graduation year next to your name, and I remember seeing SAHITH THEEGALA—a name you're not used to seeing on a junior golf leaderboard, where ones like Davis Riley and Brendon Todd are fare more common—way up at the top with a 2015 next to his name. He was dominating all the older kids and I made a point to look for him the following day. He was the same height he is today. If anything, a bit skinnier, but he already had the big-man swagger he carries to this day. He won that week, and I kept loose tabs on him his first few years at Pepperdine. He continued to progress until a wrist injury killed his junior season. But he returned with a vengeance his senior year; he was the best player on the best team in the country. That Pepperdine 2019-20 team will always feel they'd have won the national championship if not for the COVID stoppage. At least Theegala got some hardware to commemorate his run, becoming just the fifth player to sweep the top three awards as college golf's best player. A few sponsor's invites, a few solid finishes and one well-timed top-five locked up a PGA Tour card just months after graduation.
Theegala never lost site of how unlikely his path to the PGA Tour was, nor did he take a single moment of his newfound life for granted. We went down to his Houston home back in May to film the first episode of Side Gig; what we saw was a largely unchanged kid—he still lives in a home with roommates—who'd only reluctantly allowed himself to splurge on some toys. Mainly: his dream car, a BMW he purchased in late 2022 with his own money. Shortly after buying the car he broke down in tears while driving to a tournament.
"Things were just going, like too good. And it was a moment of like, dude, life's good right now. And I know it's not going to be good, and I knew a lot of people are going through certain things. We're all going through our own things, but it's nice to be able to live in that moment and just be super thankful."
We romanticize the notion of the never-satisfied athlete. We gawk over stories of Tiger Woods not even celebrating his victories because he's so locked in on the chase for the next one. It's fun to marvel at just how single-minded these cyborgs can be and just how unique that singular focus is. But as far as someone to grab dinner with—there's something magnetic about someone in a wonderful position in life who stops to smell the roses like Theegala does. It's why the reaction to his victory on Sunday in the Fortinet Championship, the first event of the fall season that's no longer tied to the FedEx Cup, felt like a collective celebration. The nice guy finished first.
Adding to Theegala's appeal is his homemade-ass golf game. It starts with the swing—he's got enormous side bend through the impact zone, Joaquin Niemann-like, a move that can make your back hurt just looking at it. It works for Theegala's spine because he has 18 degrees of scoliosis in his spine. It'd actually hurt a lot worse if he tried to maintain Adam Scott-like posture.
Despite the unorthodox move he can shape the ball both ways and loves to move it around. It's old-school in that way; you won't find him feverishly checking his TrackMan numbers before a round. In fact, he's never hit balls on a launch monitor before a round of golf. He sees shots and he hits them. It's art over science, and it's caught the eye of his fellow tour pros.
"He'd be one of the guys I'd say I've been impressed to watch play," Keegan Bradley told me. "Dirty…he kind of plays like Bubba."
Indeed he does. The shot of the week for my money was a punch-hook through a narrow opening that was positively Bubba-esque.
Sunday saw him take a commanding five-shot lead early in the round and maintain a multi-shot advantage for the entirety of the afternoon. That gave the PGA Tour and Golf Channel full license to go absolutely HAM on the family angle. It might've gone a touch too far if we're being honest. I understand they wanted to spice up a fall-golf broadcast but, at the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, the social media hammering of the family and friends angle was borderline invasive. One post? Totally cool. Two posts, and maybe a broadcast segment or two? Fine. The PGA Tour's official X account posted 13 times just about Theegala's family on Sunday alone. Theegala himself is too nice to be annoyed by it or say anything, and this might be more an indictment of my headspace more than anything else, but by the end we veered pretty close to eye-roll territory. Not because Theegala's family isn't incredible, because they are, and not because this story isn't heartwarming, because it is. But man..asking every person in his gallery to describe him in one word?
Alright, rant over. Back to the happy stuff.
"Just can't believe it happened," Theegala said after the win, which brings him to No. 29 in the world rankings. "Just a lot of work that was put in and a lot of people that were behind this. It's just golf is really, really hard. You never know when you're going to find a little hot streak or when you're going to go on a cold streak. You know, I'm just taking it all in as the game's been feeling good and putting in the work. Yeah, my first thought is just like, it feels like such a team win. It doesn't feel like a win just for myself, it's for everyone that's supporting me and kind of got me where I am today. A lot of really, really good golf the last four days just gives me so much confidence that I kind of went out there and got it today. I didn't really just kind of leak my way in, I really felt like I kept the pedal down and that's kind of what I was missing in the first few times I was in contention."
JT can breathe easy
Also in contention on Sunday in Napa was Justin Thomas, who made his first competitive start since the Wyndham Championship, his first start since his Ryder Cup captain's pick, his first start since taking more ownership of his swing and first start since posting the pool noodle video. Another dud week would've sent us into a take-cycle and only turned up the heat on the did-JT-deserve-a-pick rhetoric that's taken quite a bit of oxygen.
Instead, Thomas opened with 69-67 and was in the mix all weekend, eventually settling for a solo fifth finish that marked his first top five finish in an official event since the 2022 Tour Championship. This was what Zach Johnson was banking on when he gave JT the pick—there were still four-plus weeks between the picks and the Ryder Cup, and he was counting on class being permanent and Thomas having enough time between to get back in the lab and fix whatever habits led to his worst season as a professional. JT's now gone T12-5th in his last two starts and all systems are a go leading into Rome.
"It's just golf, anybody that's been out here can tell you," Thomas said of his struggle and quick turnaround. "It's frustrating but wild at the same time. I'm putting myself in a lot better positions to have good things happen, but more than anything, mentally I truly believe that good things are going to happen, so that's at least a good start."
Fox wins at Wentworth, Team Europe shows strong
All 12 members of the European Ryder Cup team teed it up at the BMW Championship at Wentworth this week, a strong sign that they're a united front and committed to the process. (Justin Thomas and Max Homa played this week at the Fortinet, Brooks Koepka has to play this week's LIV event, but the other nine won't have played a competitive round since the Tour Championship). What's more: the vast majority of them played well.
All 12 guys made the cut, and nine finished T18 or better.
T10—Ludvig Aberg, Sepp Straka
T18—Shane Lowry, Matt Fitzpatrick
Those top nine are going to be leaned on heavily next week, as they should be. They're all in their physical prime and they're all playing exceptional golf. Aberg particularly drew some eyes this week when he took the 54-hole lead in the DP World Tour's flagship event. A four-over Sunday dampened the excitement some but Team Europe could not have asked for a better few months leading up to the Ryder Cup. They're flying high with confidence.
Ryan Fox, a 36-year-old long hitting veteran from New Zealand, picked up the biggest win of his career with a one-shot win over Hatton and Aaron Rai. Fox has won three times on the DP World Tour since February and will secure a PGA Tour card by being one to the top 10 points-earners not already exempt. He was pumped after the win about a trip he now gets to take in April.
Stewart Hagestad keeps on winning
He lives a one-of-a-kind life, and he knows it. Stewart Hagestad is the world's best amateur golfer who does not plan to become a professional golfer. A Newport Beach native, he had a solid but unspectacular golf career at USC before moving to New York and becoming something of a sensation in the golf world. He won the U.S. Mid-Amateur, open only to those 25 and above (so no college kids who already practice like pros and will turn pro shortly), for the first time in 2016. That win got him into the 2017 Masters, where he finished as the low amateur. Then he made the Walker Cup team. Then he made another Walker Cup team. Then he won another Mid-Am. Then he made another Walker Cup team. He just played in his fourth Walker Cup, which really doesn't happen for mid-amateurs, as part of the winning U.S. side at St. Andrews. This was supposed to be his last hurrah at the elite level of the amateur game. Only the Mid-Amateur was in the NYC area and just two weeks after the Walker Cup, so why not keep the game sharp for another fortnight?
Hagestad returned to U.S. soil for the Mid-Amateur at Sleepy Hollow just north of New York City. He won it again, beating Evan Beck in the 36-hole final match and booking a spot in his third Masters and seventh major overall. (He'll also get in to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst next year).
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought this was possible," Hagestad said after the victory. "I'm going to need a minute to kind of decompress, but there's a lot of emotions going right now.”
How, then is it possible? How does a 32-year-old with a job keep his game sharp enough to remain one of the best amateurs in the world, as good as the college kids who essentially do this full time?
Hagestad has a unique set of circumstances. He has never shied away from this. He grew up in a well-to-do family and holds memberships at some pretty swanky clubs. After graduating from USC in 2013 he moved to New York to work as an investment analyst at KTR Capital Partners. He moved to Oak Tree Residential, then back to California, where hd did stints at Merrill Lynch, Crescent Capital and Houlihan Lokey. He graduated from USC's MBA program last summer and has started work at BDT&MSD partners. Hagestad was back in the NYC office on Monday morning after winning the mid-am on Friday.
There are, however, gaps in his résumé’s chronology; Hagestad has had the luxury of taking breaks from work to focus on his golf. That’s possible because of a financial safety net most do not have. He does not pretend he has been chained to a desk year-round, searching for an hour here or there to hit balls. He does, however, insist that his focus shifts seasonally, and he said last year that making this last Walker Cup team was the last big accomplishment he wanted to tick off before riding off into the metaphorical golf sunset. He practices a ton, and it's not a rhythm he wants to continue forever.
“I don’t really play a ton between October and March,” he told me he told me at the 2022 U.S. Open. “The last two years I was in school. Before that, I would work for eight months and then play for four. I gave up promotions and pay bumps. I made the dean’s list in two out of four semesters in business school, and I passed the SIE exam after graduation…I like to think I was pretty good at balancing everything. I had a unique opportunity, and I took it.”
That's a perfect summary of Hagestad's golf career. He had a unique opportunity—to refrain from turning pro but work on his game a ton, travel around playing the best golf courses in the best amateur events, all while maintaining a corporate job. Very, very few people have that opportunity, but simply having it does not guarantee success. Competitive golf is the ultimate meritocracy, and no one handed him any of the trophies he now owns. He works on his game before and after work. He comes up with a schedule that works for both him and for his employer, who undoubtedly benefits from having such an accomplished golfer on their roster.
Predictably, any piece of content involving Hagestad is met with negativity. He's not really an amateur. Rich kid. Why doesn't he turn pro already. Jealousy is a nasty trait, and it's hard not to read all the negative comments Hagestad gets online through that lens. Hagestad is a legend of amateur golf, and if you look at the recent history of amateur golf legends, the majority of them are pretty well-off financially outside of golf. That's why they don't feel the need to turn professional and cash-in on their talents. This is nothing new; he just happens to be doing his thing during the age of social media, where everyone has an outlet for their opinion. His is a charmed life, for sure, but do we expect the guy to apologize for it?
—Funny stuff here.
—Team USA pushed back on giving Netflix no-holds barred access at the Ryder Cup, drawing the line at "private team activities." That means we likely won't get to see the pump-up speeches or captains' pairings deliberation processes in the next season of "Full Swing." The Associated Press has the details, but it boils down to the guys not feeling super comfortable, and captain Zach Johnson not wanting to impose anything on them. This is the one week they're a team and they like to lean all the way into the team-stuff. Is there really stuff happening behind closed doors that's so sacred that it would do damage if shown, but also so precious that Netflix would choose to air it over players' wishes? Almost certainly not. Does Netflix have any incentive to burn players when the success of their product relies on them having good relationships and thus access with players? No, they do not. Are there cameras in other major-sport locker rooms, and do the producers use their judgement to decide what's kosher to air and what's not? Of course there are. But the Ryder Cup sits on its own pedestal in this sport, the one week a year there's a locker-room component, and they're well within their rights if they want to block it off from cameras.
My two cents: it's not that deep nor serious, and Zach Johnson's quotes about protecting the "sanctity and sacredness of Team USA" reads a bit like an SNL skit. But I understand the players' side; it's a potential headache without much benefit to them, particularly because the players don't get paid to do the Netflix show, and a bunch of the team members haven't agreed to be in the show at all. These guys don't like doing things for free, especially if they haven't tacitly agreed to doing something for free.
I have no doubts the Netflix crew will produce seriously compelling content from next week in Rome; they're great at what they do, and they'll have some level of access. Even if it's not as much as we might've hoped.
—The Solheim Cup is this week at the Finca Cortesin resort in Spain, where the U.S. will look to avenge a humiliating defeat two years ago at Inverness. They were the huge favorites in Ohio and they were beaten on home turf. Vegas has the odds almost exactly even.
—Sticking with the team-golf vibes…the Writer Cup debuts this week. Two six-man teams, captained by Dave Portnoy and Big Cat, playing team matches down at Mid Pines in Pinehurst. The Fore Play crew was there. It was an unbelievable time, and the content's going to be incredible. Watch on the Barstool Sports YouTube channel after the Yak all this week and next.
—Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner have been contracted to revamp the Spanish Bay course at Pebble Beach, which occupies an insane piece of property but isn't held in the same esteem as Pebble or Spyglass Hill. Hanse, the modern U.S. Open doctor, has overseen renovations at Winged Foot, The Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club, Merion, Yale Golf Course and much more. He's everywhere in golf, which is why this meme is so funny to nerds like me.
—Sergio Garcia apparently made a last-ditch effort to get into the Ryder Cup picture by offering to pay the $700,000+ in fines he'd accrued from the DP World Tour for playing in LIV Golf events. The Telegraph's James Corrigan reported the story. Garcia's a Ryder Cup legend and the all-time winningest player in Ryder Cup history with 28.5 points, a record he set at the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits where he went 3-0 while partnering with Jon Rahm only to lose to Bryson DeChambeau in singles. His offer to pay didn't work, as Corrigan reports the DPWT told him he'd resigned his membership and nothing could be done. Garcia is currently 15th in LIV's season-long points standings and, per Data Golf's advanced algorithm, the No. 333 golfer in the world. Now, would he still get consideration for a pick (if eligible) given his history? Of course. But he almost certainly wouldn't have made the team anyway, and this story leaking sure smells like Garcia's camp trying to put the blame for the ugly end to his Ryder Cup career on the DP World Tour rather than himself or his choices.
Until next week,