CROMWELL Conn. — Golf can be cruel.
Sahith Theegala walked to the 18th tee of TPC River Highland with a one-stroke lead over Xander Schauffele and his first PGA Tour win in sight.
Then the unfortunate happened.
After Theegala, a 24-year-old Tour rookie, hit his “perfect” tee shot into the left fairway bunker, he knew he still had a shot at winning the Travelers Championship by a par. However, his second shot into the bank of the bunker he weakened, his ball sank back into the sand.
“Never in a million years would I have thought I would allow myself to knife it,” Theegala said after his round. “All I had to do was chop it up. (My caddy and I) even said, ‘Like, this is a 50/50 ball in terms of I just have to try and get a hair out of it. ‘ Somehow my body was just, I just hit it right. I had space there. I don’t know what it looked like, but I had space there. I just didn’t think I’d let myself knife it.
“But I think the moment was there — and from there it’s like, ‘I need to try and make 5 now.’ Had a little more space. And I did the same thought process. I almost had it again.’
His second attempt out of the bunker was 43 yards and Theegala was 82 yards from the hole. He nearly made 5, but his 10-foot bogey putt lipped out and once again sucked the air out of the very pro-Theegala crowd. Even if he had made the putt, it might not have mattered. Schauffele, who eventually won, later birdied the hole.
Travelers Championship full-field scores
However, Theegala still managed to find positives after heartbreak.
“I’m just going to grow out of it,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing really well and if I just keep doing the same thing, then keep loving the game. I love the process. I’ve never loved it more than now. So, yeah, I’m just me I’m very excited to see if I can do it again, keep putting myself in these positions.”
Theegala has tasted victory before. He held the lead of the 54-hole Sanderson Farms Championship, but finished T-8. He also held the three-day lead of WM Phoenix Open, but went down T-3.
With what he learned from those experiences, Theegala said he “did everything I thought I had to do and it just happened that all the bad culminated in one hole.” Still, he dreams of playing late on Sundays, like today. And if Theegala follows his “trial” as he did in Connecticut this week, that coveted first win could be coming soon.
†[Theegala] was there again and today and then in Arizona,” Schauffele said when asked if he had any advice for Theegala after Sunday’s heartbreak. “So he knows he can play at a level that will win here in the Tour and that is kind of – I guess I don’t need to tell him anything. I think he should just keep knocking on that door until he breaks that thing.”