With approximately three dozen friends and family following him around Silverado Resort in Napa, California, during his victory in the Fortinet Championship, Sahith Theegala was intent on sharing the win with others, but the moment belonged to him.
Theegala rolled to a two-stroke victory over S.H. Kim, finishing at 21-under-par 267 to take the first event of the PGA Tour’s fall schedule.
“It doesn’t feel real. It’s probably not going to set in for a while,” Theegala said. “It was a lot of good golf and some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. The support I have is mind-blowing. … To put it all together like this means the world to me.”
It was an ideal antidote to any lingering disappointment Theegala felt from missing out on the season-ending Tour Championship by the slimmest margin. With only the top 30 in FedEx Cup points qualifying to play last month at East Lake, Theegala finished a career-best 31st but so close to so much more.
Theegala is an emerging star on the PGA Tour through both his play and his personality. He was a three-time All-America player at Pepperdine and in 2020 became the fifth player to win the Haskins, Nicklaus and Hogan awards in the same year.
His aggressive, athletic swing and his engaging style have helped the 25-year-old native Californian become a familiar character in just his second full season on tour.
“I felt like three weeks was ample break. I was fired up missing East Lake by one, so just kind of wanted to play a tournament ASAP."
With a forced three-week break since his last start the BMW Championship, Theegala was eager to tee it up in what will be one of his three events through the fall. Having already secured a spot in the signature events next year, Theegala arrived in California wine country with a more relaxed attitude. That helped him win his first PGA Tour event.
“I’m such an addict, it’s tough for me to sit around and do nothing, too,” Theegala said. “I felt like three weeks was ample break. I was fired up missing East Lake by one, so just kind of wanted to play a tournament ASAP.
“My main thing that I’m kind of focusing on was just making progress, and I felt like I made progress again throughout the year. I think I learned just as much from not being in contention as being in contention, seeing that it’s both doable, but you’ve just got to keep putting in the work and hopefully it pays off on the golf course.”
While Theegala dominated the weekend, Justin Thomas had one of his best weeks of 2023, perhaps easing the concern others have expressed about his recent selection to the Ryder Cup team. Thomas finished fifth, six shots behind Theegala. He closed with a final-round 72 after surging into contention with a third-round 65.
Having failed to make the FedEx Cup playoffs – he finished 71st to miss out by one spot – Thomas found that captain Zach Johnson’s decision to add him to the Ryder Cup team sparked an instant and enduring controversy.
Thomas had just three top-10 tour finishes this year before the Fortinet Championship and had made only three cuts since the PGA Championship in May.
“The fact that I feel like I have been held, not only because of myself but everybody else’s expectations of me, held to a high standard, that clearly means that somebody thinks something decent of me as a golfer. So that’s a good way to look at it,” Thomas said.
“That’s pretty much what I tried to do at the end of the year is look at everything as a positive. It was never near as bad as it always seemed like it was, and I’m excited for these next couple months.”
Ron Green Jr.