Let’s get one thing straight: Sahith Theegala does not regret the tee shot.
Leading the Travelers Championship by one after he birdied the 17th hole on Sunday at TPC River Highlands, the 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie came to the par-4 18th with a one-stroke lead over Xander Schauffele, who was playing in the pairing behind him.
Theegala, a decorated collegiate player who was making his 38th career PGA Tour start, pulled driver and found the fairway bunker. His ball was nestled up close to the lip.
On the CBS telecast, the crew was questioning his decision off the tee. Theegala had just 123 yards to the pin and 105 to the front of the green after his drive, so a lesser club would have been short of any bunker trouble and still given him a short iron into the green.
But no, Theegala isn’t second-guessing it.
“Just a perfect tee ball for me. Just a high cut over the tree. I hit that a thousand times this year. Whenever there’s a tree in the way there, like I hit a mid-height bleeder. So I’ve been hitting that high fade really well all year,” he said. “Just the way this course is, it allows me to really hit these low balls which I really like out here to kind of keep it in the fairway. So I guess I just haven’t hit that high fade that much. But we talked about it yesterday because I missed the drive way right yesterday and I’m like, no, I got to trust it, it’s my bread and butter. I put a great swing on it, hit it right in the center. Just didn’t cut. Maybe it was adrenaline, squared the face a little sooner than normal. Just didn’t cut.”
That’s where the trouble started. Not long after his birdie on 17 ignited the crowd and gave him the solo lead, Theegala failed to clear the bunker lip on his first attempt. He put his hands on his hips and stared at the ball.
“I knew I hit it really well and I knew it was going to be close to the lip, but not that close,” Theegala said. “But, yeah, like I said, we were just trying to figure out what the best way to make 4 was and try and force Xander to make birdie there. I knew exactly where we stood. Never in a million years did I think I would allow myself to blade it.”
His second from the sand was sent safely into the fairway, but after he wedged on he couldn’t make the 12-footer to save bogey.
Schauffele, who earlier was likely thinking he needed birdie to force a playoff, needed just a par to win. He did one better, making birdie and winning by two.
Theegala tied with J.T. Poston for second for his best career finish on the PGA Tour, and one spot better than his T3 at Phoenix earlier this year. He’s now had two top-fives in his last three starts.
“All the guys out here know how hard it is to win and how few opportunities there are to win,” he said. “That’s why something like this is really, really going to hurt. It’s really going to hurt. But just going to grow from it.”