Besides some stints at the West Michigan Golf Show, last weekend I spent some time in front of the television watching the WM Phoenix Open. Like many, I was pulling for Sahith Theegala who battled down the stretch with the leaders and could’ve won it as the most unlikely winner. The 24-year-old played at Pepperdine U. and was a standout. In fact, as a senior he swept all three major college Player of the Year awards.
His swing is not typical. As explained by PGA Tour writer Nick Parker, Theegala’s odd head move on his downswing is a compensation for his “scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, which has always forced him to make a different motion than his peers.”
Theegala received a sponsor’s exemption into the Phoenix tournament and was trying to be the first such player to win a tournament since Melvin Laird did the trick in 2020 at the Shriners Children Open. The 54-hole leader and playing in the last group of the day, Theegala was handling the pressure well, getting up and down with a long bunker shot on the par-five 15th hole for birdie. He nearly birdied the raucous 16th hole (more on that later), narrowly missing the putt.
His downfall was a bad bounce on the driveable par-four 17th hole. Dialing back with a 2-hybrid, Theegala’s tee shot found the green but then veered left into the water. When he failed to get up and down for a par, his chances for winning sank. He made an important putt to save par on the 18th hole, allowing him to pocket $434,600 for his T-3 finish and, as importantly, automatically qualifying for this week’s Genesis Invitational at Rivieria. No doubt, more people will be pulling for him in Los Angeles, his hometown.
It should be noted Scottie Scheffler was a worthy champion in Phoenix. Like Luke List two weeks before, it was his first PGA Tour victory.
Now about that 16th hole. There’s nothing like a lively gallery to create added excitement at a golf tournament. But the stuff that goes on year after year in Phoenix is over the top. In fact, call it “excessive celebration,” mainly due to the free flowing of adult beverages. I give credit to Tour players embracing the noise and not being intimidated—like Bubba Watson did one year at the first tee of Medinah at the Ryder Cup. You can’t fight this din.
But players ripping off their shirts on the greens like some did in celebration was a bit much. And when Carlos Ortiz and Sam Ryder dunked aces at the 16th over the weekend, the gallery proceeded to litter the green with debris and beer cups.
Thank goodness, the title sponsor Waste Management knows a thing or two about cleaning up trash.
photo courtesy of the PGA TOUR