Indian-American Sahith Theegala secured a career breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour at the Fortinet Championship in Napa, California, last weekend in front of family and friends to cement his stature as one of the game’s rising stars. The 25-year-old paid tribute to his parents Muralidhar and Karuna, who emigrated from India to the U.S. during the 1980s, for their sacrifices and support and now hopes his triumph will inspire other young athletes in India to dream of sporting success.

[PHOTOS: Getty Images]

It’s crazy… Just can’t believe it happened. I guess it’s just been a lot of work that was put in and a lot of people that were behind this win. Golf is really hard and you never know when you’re going to find a little hot streak or when you’re going to go on a cold streak. I’m taking it all in as the game has been feeling good. My first thought is that this feels like such a team win. It doesn’t feel like a win for myself, it’s for everyone who has been supporting me and that kind of got me to where I am today.

To be able to share this moment with my family and friends, it’s the best. I don’t want to say this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but it really is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. You only win once and you never even know if you’re going to win, right? It is special to have them here and it’s something I’ll never forget. Even through the highs and the lows, they were cheering me on and supporting me, and they’ve been that way since I started my professional career. I just want them to know I have their back too.

Sahith Theegala with his parents Karuna and Muralidhar and brother Sahan after winning the Boys’ Under 6 World Junior Championship. [Photo courtesy of Sahith Theegala]

It’s awesome to win in my home state and have so many people come up and be able to watch which is not the easiest thing to do. Watching golf and playing golf is so different. Personally for me, I get way more nervous watching golf than playing. So I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. You definitely get more on the highs and more on the lows from watching, whereas I feel like I’ve always been pretty steady while I’m competing on the golf course. I’ll wear my emotions on my sleeve but for the most part, I won’t get too low or too high. I’ve told my family and friends I love their cheering and I acknowledge it, but during the moment, if I make a birdie, I’m trying to keep my heart rate down and not get too excited and just kind of keep playing. I learned the hard way a couple times that you have to go and get it. I knew I had to stay as focused as I can and try to play my best golf coming in during the final round. It was awesome, especially at 17 and 18. I kind of soaked it in a little bit and sure enough, I hit three of the worst shots I hit all week on 18 for a bogey. But yeah, it’s awesome hearing the chants on every single hole. It definitely gave me a lot of energy.

My dad’s the reason I’m here today. He introduced me to all sports, most specifically basketball and golf and I just loved watching sports on TV with him. All he knew when he came over from India was academics and to study. Mum and him did such a good job of just kind of learning how to almost hybrid parent between this Indian culture and American culture and let me play sports, let me spend a lot of time on sports.

They put me in a basketball club, and my mum drove me to so many practices when my dad was still at work. Just the combined efforts of them to kind of understand that this was my dream and my passion, and then for it to become their dream and their passion, especially my dad. He’s a competitor too, although he’s never really played 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. It seemed like it was kind of a pipe dream, but my dad had my back the whole time. He believed in me from the start and knew this could be a thing. It’s tough not to get emotional just thinking about everything he’s done for me. He’s always had my back, even through my wrist surgery in 2018 and 2019 thinking I might never play golf again. He kept on pushing me. Dad was also hard on me, but he is also one of my best friends. He’s always told me to have fun and the main thing was to just enjoy it because if you don’t enjoy it, then there’s no purpose in doing it as life is too short. It was just such a right combination. Now, he’s the happiest person I know. It means the world to me.

This win means a lot too because a lot of my family’s still back in India. I’m very proud of my Indian heritage. I just love seeing other Indians sort of rise to the occasion in sports. Neeraj Chopra winning a couple of gold medals, I think it was the first gold medal in track and field for javelin for India. That’s huge for the country. I was then lucky to play with Shubhankar Sharma in the practice round at the Open Championship and meet his whole team, his dad and coach. He had a great showing there and I was pulling for him so hard as he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. I think he finished like seventh there and he’s been having a nice little resurgent season. Anirban Lahiri texts me all the time and he’s obviously been great for the Indian game, too. 

Obviously with Akshay Bhatia (a fellow Indian-American) winning on the PGA Tour at the Barracuda Championship in July and Aaron Rai finishing second at the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth on Sunday, there are a lot of really cool role models to look up to for the Indian people. And hopefully we’re breaking some stereotypes about athleticism and competing in sport and all that. It means a lot to me, for sure. There’s a lot of things I do in daily life where that stems from my culture and my heritage. My parents are the first ones from their family to be in the States. It means a lot, and hopefully this is the start of something really good for Indian sports. 

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