Sahith Theegala earned his first PGA Tour victory-- a win that was unsurprising to most who had been following his story and a reminder of what the 25-year-old portends to be over the next several years of his career.
With the Ryder Cup starting next week, it was hard to not think about Theegala in the mix at future United States team events. He has so many characteristics you want at a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup: tremendous emotion, often-elite iron play and a short game that can save him from almost any situation. His driver is a self-admitted problem, and could be at future team events, but it's also something he's worked on managing. I don't necessarily believe it's a quality that would keep him off of U.S. teams, depending on the circumstance and golf course.
Most importantly, though, is that he's young and his game is improving. Theegala has improved his play in each of the last five years, according to Data Golf, and gone from being a -1.56 golfer as an amateur in 2018 to a 1.10 golfer (and climbing) in 2023. That's a good number. It's good enough for him to be ranked in the top 35 on Data Golf and nearly good enough to make it to the Tour Championship each of the last two years (he finished one spot out of the top 30 after the BMW Championship in August).
Korn Ferry/PGA Tour
But, is it good enough to crack the top 12 on a loaded American side at future team events?
Theegala is the 20th-highest ranked American if you look at the Data Golf rankings and 21st if you look at the Official World Golf Rankings. He finished 23rd in qualifying points after a year in which he missed a lot of cuts but also finished T4 at the Farmers, T6 at the Genesis, T5 at the RBC Heritage and inside the top 10 at the Masters.
If I had to sum up where he stands in the U.S. hierarchy, I would say he's on the cusp of breaking into that bottom tier of American players that consistently make Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams but not quite there yet.
His ball-striking likely needs to improve. Over the last 12 months, Theegala ranks No. 31 in the world in total strokes gained but 88th in ball-striking. And while the overall number is nice, teams are often focused on ball-striking and winning. He's made strides in both categories, but there is still work to be done.
The intoxicating thing about Theegala, especially as it relates to team events, is that he's one of the most original, authentic golfers. He plays golf, not golf swing. And when you play golf with creativity and heart at places like the Ryder Cup, you tend to get rewarded.
"Just growing up as a kid on the range, one of the things I did a lot with my coach and even with my dad is I'll be on a flat range and I'll be like 'How many times are you actually hitting a dead flat shot, a dead stock shot into a hole at a tournament?'" asked Theegala on Sunday. "It's literally never. So I would always envision I have a tree in front of me and hit every kind of shot around the tree. I did the classic tic-tac-toe. I just love working the ball.
"Also, jokingly, I was like, 'I'm not good enough to hit a straight shot. I don't want to aim at the flag and expect to hit a straight one, I just don't think my swing's built for that.' Just kind of a combination of that and definitely seeing small windows and tighter targets is something I've been really working on so when I ... don't have an option, I just have the tight window, I feel like I go ahead and pull it off more often than not. It's bit me in the butt a few times. Yeah, I definitely think I'd like to have that focus on every shot, but I know that's not how golf works."
That sounds like a Ryder Cup dream.
The other piece of the equation, as previously noted, is his emotion. The unadulterated passion with which he plays. I'm not sure anyone wears their heart on his sleeve more than Theegala, and that, as we have seen time and time and time again at team events, is half the battle when it comes to winning as a 12-player unit.
I don't know if Theegala will ever make a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup team. What I do know is that he's constantly getting better at his craft and somebody whose trajectory -- depending on how much better he can become as a ball-striker -- is that of a player who could play on some teams in the future.
"I don't even know what my dreams are going on from here," he said. "I think it's just to keep giving it all I have and doing it for my friends and family and everyone that supports me. Just seeing how far I can go in this game, just trying to get better. I really am addicted to just seeing how much better I can be.
"Being around some of the top players in the game a lot more recently has fired me up even more just to see if I can be in the mix as kind of one of those guys. Yeah, I guess I'm just going to keep sticking to what I've been doing. I think it would probably be easy to get sucked into certain things or looking at stuff different ways, but I'm going to keep looking at it the same way I have been and just do my thing."
Two years from now, Sahith Theegala might pop up again in mid-to-late September, but it might not be in Napa at the Fortinet Championship. It might be at Bethpage at the Ryder Cup instead.