ORLANDO, Fla. – Sahith Theegala isn’t a big air-travel guy. It’s one reason he chose to drive his 2015 Volkswagen Passat to tournaments throughout the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing. But the 37-hour, cross-country road trip from his parents’ home in Chino Hills, California, to Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando was just a little too much time in the driver’s seat for his liking.
“I was thinking about it,” Theegala joked. “No, I flew here. It was actually an easy flight.”
Besides, Theegala is very much enjoying his courtesy car this week – a GMC Yukon Denali. As he prepares to make his Arnold Palmer Invitational debut and compete for the $2.16 million first-place prize, Theegala is already a rising star on this tour, having nearly won in Phoenix a few weeks ago and rapidly closing in on the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But he still talks about the weekly perks of being a full-fledged Tour member as if he’s still an amateur playing on a sponsor exemption.
The courtesy cars, for sure. The player dining. The conditioning of the golf courses.
“I could see how some guys get spoiled out here,” Theegala said.
It wasn’t long ago that Theegala was beginning his rookie season and fighting to get into events on his number. He said he quickly learned that the exemption category for Korn Ferry Tour graduates wasn’t great, but after tying for eighth at Sanderson Farms last fall, he no longer had to worry.
Still, Theegala kept approaching tournaments as if he had no status at all. Throughout his career, he’s thrived when faced with adversity. When he hurt his left wrist in college and was forced to sit out for over a year, he returned to play the best golf of his life and win the Haskins Award. When he turned pro in the middle of a pandemic with nowhere to play, he forged a path to KFT Finals via non-member FedExCup points – he barely qualified, too, by only a few points – and then earned his Tour card in three starts.
The first few months on Tour have been a whirlwind, Theegala states, which is why he never had time to set any real goals. He was just happy to be playing.
Full-field tee times from the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Even after Phoenix, where he led late before rinsing his tee shot on the penultimate hole, Theegala remains goal-less.
“I think not setting any concrete expectations and stuff like that has been really good for me,” he said. “I think I’m still trying to do the same thing and get better. Even if it’s .0001 percent better, every day, week, hour, whatever it is … But as long as I’m focused on that kind of progression, I’m not too worried about the expectations. I think just the work that’s being put in is going to show.”
Theegala has been putting in the miles in more ways than one, and he’s already earned enough money to not only upgrade his Passat – he’s dreaming of a sports car – but also move out of his parents’ home and into his own place. But again, his busy schedule has made it nearly impossible to figure out where to put down new roots. He has some friends with a spare room in The Woodlands, Texas – several Tour players, including Patrick Reed and Jhonattan Vegas, call the Houston area home – and that remains a likely landing spot for several reasons, including its location.
Plenty of short, convenient flights. And more opportunities for nice courtesy cars. Theegala is a big fan of both.