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Of the 156 golfers competing in the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, 23-year-old Sahith Theegala obviously isn’t the biggest name in the field. Actually, it’s likely the vast majority of people tuning in have never even heard of him.

But make no mistake about it. This kid can flat-out play.

This actually isn’t even Theegala’s first U.S. Open appearance, although it is his first appearance in a major championship as a professional as he’s only been getting paid to play golf for about a year, splitting his time between the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour. He had a highly successful collegiate career at Pepperdine, winning every major award there is to win in 2020, although his final season was unfortunately cut short due to COVID-19.

Now one of just a handful of Indian American golfers to ever compete on the PGA Tour, the 6’3″ California native is looking to make a name for himself among the professional ranks and is doing a solid job of that thus far.

Sahith Theegala was a highly accomplished junior golfer

Sahith Theegala during a practice round ahead of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines
Sahith Theegala during a practice round ahead of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines | Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Born in Orange, California, in 1997, Theegala started playing golf at a very early age and won the Junior Golf World Championships at ages six, eight, and 10. He then went on to play four seasons on the varsity golf team at Diamond Bar High School and was an All-Sierra League first-team selection all four years, also leading his team to a league title every year.

In addition to competing for his high school team, Theegala also competed on the invitation-only Toyota Tour Cup, a highly prestigious tour in which junior golfers can hone their skills and compete against the top players in the region. Since its inception in 1999, future PGA Tour stars such as Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Matthew Wolff, Max Homa, and Collin Morikawa have competed on the Toyota Tour Cup, so we’re talking the cream of the crop here.

Theegala posted nine victories on the tour, and also won the 2014 Los Angeles City Championship, certainly no small feat. Also an honor roll student in each of his four years of high school, he graduated in 2015 and took his talents to Pepperdine, where he became the top college player in the country.

He competed in his first U.S. Open as an amateur in 2017 and was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine

In his first season at Pepperdine in 2015-16, Theegala was named West Coast Conference (WCC) Freshman of the Year and a First Team All-WCC selection after arguably the best freshman season in school history, posting a scoring average of 71.06. In 2016-17, he had five top-10 finishes, including his first collegiate victory, and was again an All-WCC First Team selection, also earning All-American third-team honors.

That summer, he qualified for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills but missed the cut after rounds of 77 and 75.

As a junior in 2017-18, Theegala led the Waves in stroke average (70.86), earned his second victory, was an All-WCC First Team selection for the third consecutive year, and was again named a third-team All-American. Unfortunately, he suffered a wrist injury in 2018, which forced him to miss the entire 2018-19 season, which he redshirted.

But he came back strong as a fifth-year senior, setting a school record with a 69.04 scoring average. He finished in the top 20 in each of the eight tournaments in which he played and had six top-10s, including two wins. Named a first-team All-American, Theegala also became just the fifth player in history to win the Fred Haskins Award, the Ben Hogan Award, and the Jack Nicklaus Award. Pepperdine was the top-ranked team in the country when the college golf season was shut down due to COVID-19.

Theegala got off to a rough start as a pro but has played well in 2021

With his collegiate career at an end, Theegala turned pro last spring and made his debut at the Outlaw Tour’s Lone Tree Classic in Chandler, Arizona, where he finished third and collected a $1,850 paycheck. He then took advantage of a few sponsor’s exemptions and made his PGA Tour debut at the Travelers Championship, where he missed the cut, which he also did the following week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and then again three weeks later at the 3M Open.

But he then made consecutive weekends at the Barracuda Championship, where he tied for 41st, and the 2020-21 season-opening Safeway Open, where he tied for 14th. Theegala made one final start in 2020, missing the cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Following a lengthy layoff, Theegala made his Korn Ferry Tour debut in March 2021, finishing tied for 19th. He’s made five more starts on the KFT since then and has made the cut in each, his best finish a tie for ninth at the MGM Resorts Championship at Paiute. He returned to the PGA Tour at the Charles Schwab Challenge but missed the cut. However, he bounced back nicely with a very respectable T-32 finish at the Memorial, after which he traveled about an hour south to Springfield Country Club, where he won a 3-for-1 playoff to get into the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he struck the very first shot of the tournament on Thursday morning.

What makes Sahith Theegala’s young career so fascinating…well, one of the things anyway…is the fact that he suffers from scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. Any back-related abnormality obviously isn’t a good thing for any golfer, but Theegala has found a way to make it work. And while he’s still looking for that first professional victory, he’s got things working just fine one year into his pro career. Since his PGA Tour debut last summer, he’s jumped nearly 1,400 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking and is only going to continue to rise if he plays the way he’s capable of playing.