Sahalee Players Championship Attracting Another Elite Field

John Oda
Photo by Scott Walstrom/NIU Athletics

Recent U.S. Open qualifiers John Oda and Sahith Theegala commit to play

by Paul Ramsdell

John Oda, an early commitment to the 23rd Sahalee Players Championship (SPC), will be riding a hot hand when the amateur championship returns to Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. next month after a one-year hiatus.

Oda, a senior-to-be at Nevada-Las Vegas, topped the field at the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying in California, shooting a 64 at Newport Beach Country Club and a 68 at Big Canyon Country Club for an 11-under total to lead the field by two shots.

After playing at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin later in June, Oda is set for Sahalee on July 5-7. The 72-hole stroke-play event is conducted over three days, and returns after taking last year off because of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship that was held at Sahalee in 2016.

The SPC is an elite men's amateur championship with a 66-man field and an envied roll call of past champions. The championship is ranked among the top 25 amateur events in the world by the organization Scratch Players Group.

Competitors in this year's championship will play 18 holes on Wednesday, July 5, then 36 holes on Thursday, July 6, and the final round on Friday, July 7. For tee times, pairings, bios of each of this year's competitors, and to follow along with live scoring during the championship, visit www.sahaleeplayerschampionship.com .

Oda, currently ranked 33rd in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, told reporters after the U.S. Open Sectional that he played two "calculated rounds" to qualify for the Open. That's been pretty much the case all year long for the Runnin' Rebel, who was the Mountain West Conference Golfer of the Year and led his team to the league title and a finish in the Elite Eight at the NCAA Championships. The 5-foot-7, 150-pounder from Honolulu currently has the second-best career scoring average in UNLV history at 71.38, trailing only Ryan Moore, the 2004 winner of the Sahalee Players Championship and the man who secured the Ryder Cup triumph for the U.S. last fall.

Besides his rising golf exploits, Oda is in line to be an all-America scholar and makes the Dean's List at UNLV as an economics major. He also told reporters at the Sectional he can play a mean ukulele.

"Growing up in Hawaii, it's pretty standard for elementary classes to play the ukulele and I kind of went that route. Growing up there, that was our instrument and it's a very friendly instrument. It has a sweet sound to it," he said.

Another early commitment to the SPC who qualified for the U.S. Open through the Sectional in California is Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills, Calif., who had a 71 at Newport Beach CC and a 65 at Big Canyon for a 7-under 136 to tie for fourth.

It wasn't looking too good for Theegala, a junior-to-be at Pepperdine, after being just even par at Newport Beach and then taking a double-bogey on the par-5 second hole at Big Canyon.

"I thought I'd have to go super low after that," he told reporters afterward.

He did just that, with seven birdies in a stretch of eight holes for the 65, which was the second lowest score on the day at Big Canyon.

"I'm super excited, obviously," he said. "At the start of that stretch, being realistic, even if I played well here, I'm not going to make it. So I'm just going to have fun, hit shots and see what happens. And I got a run of birdies, starting making everything. I felt confident in my ball-striking and felt like I could hit it anywhere near the hole and have a chance of going in."

Theegala's sophomore season for the Waves gave every indication that hot stretches like this are possible. His scoring average of 70.95 was the second lowest single-season average in Pepperdine history. He was named the Co-Player of the Year in the West Coast Conference and finished tied for 19th at the NCAAs while helping his Waves to a 13th-place finish.

The field for the SPC is once again shaping up to be filled with top amateurs from around the world, and for U.S. players it includes potential recognition to be considered for the Walker Cup team.

Moore, a Northwest native, owns the tournament record with a 16-under 272 when he won in 2004. Other winners who have gone on to successful pro careers include Jason Gore, Kyle Stanley, Daniel Summerhays, Nick Taylor, Casey Martin, Arron Oberholser and Peter Uihlein.

The Pacific Northwest Golf Association (PNGA) began partnering with the Sahalee 15 years ago to create the "Western Swing" by scheduling its Pacific Northwest Men's Amateur Championship the week following the SPC, to give elite amateur players the opportunity to compete in two quality events on the same trip to the Northwest. The 116th PNGA Men's Amateur Championship will be held July 10-15, 2017 at Emerald Valley Golf & Resort in Creswell, Ore. Visit www.thepnga.org for more information.