Sahith Theegala's father roars on his son to emotional first PGA Tour title at Fortinet Championship in California
By Jack Bantock, CNN
A delirious ensemble of more than 35 friends and family packed behind the ropes to roar the California-born golfer to Fortinet Championship glory in Napa on Sunday.
The 25-year-old signed off with a four-under 68 to finish 21-under overall, putting him two shots clear of South Korea’s S.H. Kim as Theegala secured a first PGA Tour victory on his 74th start.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Theegala, who claimed a $1.512 milllion share of an $8.4 million prize pot with the win, told reporters.
“It’s probably not going to set in for while. But man, that was a lot of good golf, and that was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I had so many family and friends cheering me on, the support I have is mind blowing.
“This feeling is incredible, and I couldn’t have done it without my whole team and everyone out here. This is such a team effort, and for me to just put it together like this, it means the world to me.”
Conducting the orchestra of support at Silverado Resort was Theegala’s father, ‘Murli’ Muralidhar, whose request for a stack of extra tickets for family and friends – many of whom had driven through the night from Southern California – was duly accepted by the PGA Tour.
Theegala senior was dialed in from the outset, howling with delight and high-fiving the accompanying party as his son began the day with a birdie. Similar celebrations followed with increasing vigor as he watched the world No. 29 rattle off six further birdies to edge closer to a long-awaited victory.
A heartbreaking late collapse at the Phoenix Open in February 2022 was captured in painful intimacy in Netflix’s fly-on-the-wall docuseries “Full Swing,” with a devastated Theegala consoled by his father and mother Karuna.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, you’ll get your day soon,” they told their son, who finished one short shy of making the playoff, won eventually by Scottie Scheffler.
Sure enough, 17 months later, that day arrived, with Theegala making a beeline for his parents after tapping home at the 18th.
“I’m so proud of him,” Theegala’s father told reporters.
“This goes a long for his career, feeling confident that he could do it on his own, he doesn’t have to depend on others. I think this is why I was proud him, that I knew he could do it.
“When he won in college four times, I told him realistically on the PGA Tour he may have won only one of a hundred, and he proved me wrong.”
And Theegala had plenty of praise in return for his father, who moved to the United States from India in 1987 and played a pivotal role in supporting his son’s “pipe dreams” of a career in pro golf.
“My dad’s the reason I’m here today,” Theegala said.
“All he knew when he came from India was academics and to study. Him and my mom did such a good job of learning how to almost hybrid parent between this Indian culture and American culture and let me play sports.
“I think at first it was hard for maybe some of my family, and even friends, to understand why I was trying to chase playing professional golf. Seems like kind of a pipe dream, but my dad had my back the whole time. He just believed in me from the start and knew that this could be a thing.
“He was really hard on me, but also one of my best friends. Always told me to have fun – the main thing was to just enjoy it, because if you don’t enjoy it, there’s no purpose in doing it, life’s too short.”
It continues a fine spell for athletes with Indian heritage in Theegala’s sport and beyond.
England’s Aaron Rai, a golfer of Kenyan-Indian descent, finished just one shot off BMW PGA Championship winner Ryan Fox on Sunday, while in Anirban Lahiri and Shubhankar Sharma, India now has two men’s players inside the world’s top-200 golfers.
In August, Neeraj Chopra – who claimed an unprecedented first track and field Olympic gold medal for India in Tokyo two years ago – etched more history with a gold in the men’s javelin at the World Athletics Championship in Budapest, Hungary.
“I’m very proud of my Indian heritage. I just love seeing other Indians sort of rise to the occasion in sports,” Theegala said.
“Hopefully we’re breaking some stereotypes about athleticism and competing in sport and all that. There’s a lot of things I do in daily life where that stems from my culture and my heritage.
“It means a lot, and I think hopefully this is the start of something really good for Indian sport.”
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