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Theegala survives playoff to win Sahalee Players Championship

Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills, Calif. birdied the first playoff hole to win the 23rd Sahalee Players Championship (SPC), outlasting Min Woo Lee of Australia.

Sahith Theegala during the final round
Sahith Theegala during the final round

The elite amateur championship was held at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash.

After 72 holes, the two players were tied at 3-under par, and went back to play the par-5 18th hole again. Theegala hit his second shot to the back edge of the green, hole high. Lee flared his second shot into the trees on the right, and after a free drop from an embedded lie punched a remarkable 150-yard shot through the trees to 45 feet from the hole. Lee then two-putted for par, and Theegala dropped a 5-footer for birdie and the win.

Theegala started today’s final round with a five-shot lead, but with the swirling winds adding to already difficult final-round playing conditions, the day quickly became a game of survival. The scoring average for the final round was 77.27.

By the 11th hole, Theegala’s lead was gone. Lee, who had started the day seven shots behind Theegala and was playing in the group ahead of him, birdied the par-5 to grab a share of the lead.

Theegala then began a series of scrambling that would make the difference in the championship. He birdied the 11th without seeing the fairway; parred the 12th without seeing the fairway; hit what looked like a perfect gutsy tee shot on the par-3 13th, but the ball trickled past the hole and into the back fringe in high rough, leading to a bogey. He then put his tee shot on 14 against the lip in a fairway bunker, powered the shot out, and hit a flop wedge to six inches for par.

On 15 his 90-yard wedge missed the green, but again pitched the ball to a foot for par. On 16 he pushed his tee shot into the right trees, and his second shot hit a tree and ricocheted back into the bushes, from where he took a free drop from a cart path; he then punched his third shot short of the green, chipped on and one-putted for bogey.

Min Woo Lee during the final round
Min Woo Lee during the final round

“I was hitting the ball in some of the worst places possible,” Theegala said. “I was all over the place, and saving pars from places I thought no way was going to happen.”

On 18, the uphill par-5, he watched as Lee birdied to tie him. Knowing he needed to make birdie for the win, his second shot landed in the right greenside bunker. He couldn’t get up and down, and the two walked back to the 18th tee for the playoff.

Theegala shot 6-over 78 in today’s round. When asked if he thought he could win a tournament by shooting a 78 in the final round, he said with a laugh, “No way.”

Theegala is a rising junior at Pepperdine, finishing his sophomore year as WCC Co-Player of the Year and selected as semifinalist for the Jack Nicklaus Award. He qualified for this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills, and in two weeks will compete in the 51st Pacific Coast Amateur Championship, being held at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.

Lee was the only player in the 66-man field to break par in today’s final round. He was the first-round leader, opening with a 4-under 68.

“At the end of the day, I’m happy to have been in the position I was in,” Lee said, after the playoff. “To start the round so far behind and come back like I did, that’s something. I knew the scores were not going to be low, and I knew if I could just stay somewhere around par, I might have a shot.”

Lee, still just 18, has won the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur, and also won the 2017 Western Australia Amateur for the second time (he also won it in 2015), and was a finalist in the 2017 Australian Amateur.

Click here for complete hole-by-hole scores.

Sahitha Theegala on the 13th hole during the final round
Sahitha Theegala on the 13th hole during the final round

Click here for a complete list of competitive bios of the players who competed in this year’s Sahalee Players Championship.

The SPC was rated an “A” event in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR) before taking a hiatus last year while the club hosted the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and each year the event draws an international field of the finest amateur players.

Five of the previous 13 SPC champions have gone on to win the Ben Hogan Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate golfer and the list of previous SPC participants now playing on the PGA Tour continues to grow each year.

Min Woo Lee on the first tee during the final round
Min Woo Lee on the first tee during the final round

Past champions of this prestigious amateur championship include Kyle Stanley, Casey Martin, Peter Uihlein, Nick Taylor, Daniel Summerhays, Ryan Moore, Chris Williams, Arron Oberholser and Jason Gore, among others, all of whom would go on to win on the PGA or European tours. The SPC scoring record at Sahalee is the 16-under 272 (68-69-68-67) shot in 2004 by Moore, a native of Puyallup, Wash.

Sahalee Country Club has been the site of the SPC since 1992, and has hosted numerous top-level events in golf, including the 1974 PNGA Men’s Amateur, 1978 Pacific Coast Amateur, 1998 PGA Championship, 2002 WGC-NEC Invitational, 2010 U.S. Senior Open, and 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.