In “Credit Hours,” we tell the stories of college golf teams whose seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, the Pepperdine University Waves.
Sunset had come and gone, but the Pepperdine men’s golf team remained on the practice green at Southern Highlands Golf Club, barely able to see the ground in front of them. Just outside of Las Vegas, the Waves shot 304 in the first round of the Southern Highlands Collegiate. It was their worst round of 2020. They were 17 shots behind tournament leader USC.
The 2019-2020 season was supposed to be a special one for Pepperdine. After narrowly missing the match play portion of the 2019 NCAA Championship, the team had its sights set on a national title in 2020. Prior to the season, an anonymous coach said to Golf Channel about Pepperdine, “I think they could be No. 1. They’re ridiculous. They’re loaded.”
The Waves justified the hype right away. They finished 4th, 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in their four fall events. All ten players who saw action recorded at least one top 10. Pepperdine opened 2020 with back-to-back victories at its home event and in Hawaii before finishing runner-up at The Prestige. Ridiculous, indeed—and loaded.
The Waves are led by freshman William Mouw and redshirt senior Sahith Theegala. A born-and-bred Californian, Mouw began his collegiate career with three top 10s. He broke 70 in nine of his first 12 rounds and shot worse than 71 just once. In early February, Mouw collected his first individual college victory at the Amer Ari Invitational. He now sits at No. 16 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings—13 spots behind his veteran teammate Theegala. For his part, Theegala has won two events and racked up three other top 10s. Through the Prestige in February, he hadn’t finished worse than T-19.
But Pepperdine had a lot more than two stars. Joshua McCarthy, Joe Highsmith, Clay Feagler, and R.J. Manke are all among the top 160 amateurs in the world, and Dylan Denante, Austin Murphy, Joe Vrzich, and Derek Hitchner are close behind. All ten players registered scoring averages of 73 or below through February. In every college golf poll, the Waves were either No. 1 or 2.
Back to Southern Highlands. As darkness descended on the practice green, no one on the Waves team knew this would be the last event of their season. All they knew was that they hadn’t finished worse than runner-up in their past six events, and a 304 wasn’t going to cut it. “They knew we underperformed and were prepping for a low one the next day together,” said head coach Michael Beard. “Not one person asked to leave or asked when we were going to leave. We had to pull them off the chipping green.”
The next day, the Waves tied for the low round. They jumped from T-12 to 6th and went on to a T-5 in the tournament. Sahith Theegala followed his opening 76 with 65-69 to get within two shots of eventual winner Parker Coody (Texas).
And that was it. The COVID-19 pandemic brought an end to the season. So the team that won three times and never finished worse than T-5 in eight tries will have to wait another year.
For now, the three seniors—Theegala, McCarthy, and Feagler—have tough choices in front of them. Each could make a legitimate run at the pros… but another shot at a national title sounds pretty good, too.
1st – Alister MacKenzie Invitational
1st – Southwestern Invitational
1st – Amer Ari Invitational
2nd – The Prestige
2nd – Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate
1st – Sahith Theegala – Alister MacKenzie Invitational (66-64-67)
1st – Sahith Theegala – Southwestern Invitational (70-68-66)
1st – William Mouw – Amer Ari Invitational (71-68-64)
3rd – William Mouw – Fighting Illini Invitational (71-68-70)
T-4 – Sahith Theegala – Southern Highlands Collegiate (76-65-69)