The Open, much like the Masters, is supposed to reward experience and knowledge, of both the links style and a specific foreign venue. That’s especially true at the Old Course, where the aphorism is that you could play it forever and learn something new about the place through each loop. But it’s not completely unheard of for rookies to make noise at this championship, and this year’s examples, as the 150th Open nears its midpoint, are Sahith Theegala and first-round leader Cameron Young.
While Young’s spot in the field has been secured for almost two months thanks to a top 50 OWGR ranking after his challenge to win the PGA Championship in May, Theegala’s place is a more recent development that has forced him to adjust on the fly. Theegala gained entry to his inaugural British Open when Daniel Berger withdrew just one week ago with a back injury.
Theegala’s late change of plans to come to Scotland had him scrambling for accommodations, so he’s settled up in a dorm at the University of St. Andrews, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world and as much a fixture in the town as the Old Course. It’s long on history and prestige, but maybe not on space. “The room is small, it’s small—the suitcase doesn’t even really fit in there,” Theegala, who is 6’3”, said after a second-round 68 that put him solidly in contention at seven under and T-6 for the championship. As of publication, it was unclear if anyone else in the top 10 did not have enough room for their suitcase in their accommodations.
Theegala began the week ranked 62nd in the world and in the midst of a PGA Tour season that has included five top-10 results in 25 starts, including near misses at the Phoenix Open (T-2) and Travelers Championship (T-3). The Old Course is far cry from TPC Scottsdale or TPC River Highlands, but Theegala has adapted well thanks to his famously creative shotmaking abilities, assisted by some of the conditions he came up on at public courses in Southern California.
“It’s funny that there’s no water or grass on a lot of California public courses,” he said of browned-out courses on the other side of the world. “It’s like hitting off the hardpan; you kind of learn to hit these spinning wedges, like cutting them or hooking them. I feel pretty comfortable on some of the lies out here because I know some guys change their wedges or stuff, less bounce. But I’m used to hitting off hardpans. It’s a little purer out here, obviously. But, yeah, I think it definitely helped a little.”
So the shots have been there and so has a double bed instead of the usual single that’s in most of the dorms in town. As this writer and the founder of this website can attest, the dorm life can be a spartan and challenging one, but a rewarding and charming experience nonetheless. For Theegala, at least his dorm room is en suite. “The room is nice,” he explained. “I actually have my own bathroom.” Given participation in an intervening major championship, his time back in the hall is limited. “We spend so little time—I spend 90 percent of my time [at the course]. I eat two meals here, dinner out in the town, and then I just go back and sleep. So it’s been great.”
A view of the writer's dorm-room accommodations in St. Andrews
While he may be new to the Open, he’s not some longshot chopper, having been a three-time All-American at Pepperdine and a Haskins Award winner. He turned pro in 2020 and the pandemic disrupted his path up the ranks of the professional game.
He said this week has brought back some “school vibes,” so a verdict was needed on his Open Championship lodging against that of his college days in Malibu. “Oh, the Pepperdine dorms were nicer, yeah,” he quickly adjudicated. “These are nice, having my own bathroom is nice, but the Pepperdine dorms were nicer. There’s an ocean view. The ocean view is a big part of it.” Apparently this week’s room does not come with a view of the North Sea.
Sleeping in a dorm at the university in town would not be a dramatic step down for him, as Theegala’s lowkey ways have become well known during his breakout moments this year. When he nearly won the Phoenix Open back in February, he noted that he was still living with his parents in Southern California, sticking with them and sleeping in his own bed after the pandemic ended his senior year early. He’d driven from that home base to the Phoenix Open as well, adding to Golf Digest that he’d probably put a couple thousand miles on his car during the West Coast swing early in the year.
Theegala has acknowledged that he’s a “feel”-type player, and his slinging style and passionate demeanor have made him a fan and Golf Twitter favorite this past year. He has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, which has forced him to adjust his swing and invent his own, distinct motion and style. The Theegala mythology has also grown with stories of intentional shanks just to mess with opponents down the range and a unique warm-up routine that rarely involves hitting the ball straight.
“He’ll definitely just hit, like, shots with a ton of curve in his warm-up,” his caddie Carl Smith told PGATOUR.com earlier this year. “He’ll hit like three or four straight 5-irons that cut 30 yards then hit a driver with a high hook. All kinds of random stuff like that. I still don’t know why he does it, but he just loves curving the ball.”
He also loves his dorm room. With half the field headed out of town and more lavish spots opening up for the weekend, Theegala likely has the ways and means to move on up somewhere in town. There’s also a nice guaranteed paycheck coming at the end of this Open. But he insisted that there are no plans to move out of the dorm, opting to stick with what’s working for the weekend in St. Andrews.
“I think it’s because I’m 24,” he said matter-of-factly. “My body feels really good when I wake up in the morning, so the beds don’t really bug me at all.” Neither has the test of links golf so far at his first Open Championship, where the legend grows.
This article includes reporting from Andy Johnson.