Sahith Theegala Breaks Down His Favorite Holes At Augusta And The Mental Challenge Of The Masters

Masters week has officially arrived. The golf (and sports) world will shift its attention to Augusta, where the best players in the world have converged to battle each other and Augusta National for the coveted green jacket.

For Sahith Theegala, it will be his second trip down Magnolia Lane, as the 26-year-old finished 9th in his Masters debut a year ago. That performance was a confidence booster for Theegala, who enters this year’s Masters in the best form of his professional career. The Pepperdine product is ranked 15th in the world, and while he hasn’t held a trophy in 2024, he has finished in the top-10 four times already this season and is returning to a course he’s long been obsessed with (like so many golfers).

Theegala spoke with Uproxx Sports last week on behalf of IBM, which has helped the Masters build out one of the best and most beloved apps in all of sports. We discussed his season thus far, improvement off the tee, lessons from his first Masters, favorite holes at Augusta, the magic of a great short par-3, and much more.

How are you feeling form-wise coming into Masters week having had some good starts here recently?

I’m feeling great, honestly. I know it’s only my third year [on Tour], but I feel better, my body feels better than it did last year from my first Masters because I played a lot more, my form feels better, and now I feel like I have a little bit of experience. So I definitely feel more confident going into the week, but I know you can never take it for granted. You could play the Masters 20 times and there’s always some new stuff that jumps and gets you. But I’m feeling really good and a lot of things that me and my coach and team have been working on have kinda come into fruition, most specifically the driving part. So feeling great, honestly.

Yeah, I was gonna ask about that. It seemed like last year, the big jump you made was with your putter. Just like, in the stats, it was strokes gained putting was where you took a big leap. And then this year, it’s been with the driver and off the tee. What are the things you’ve been working on? And what do you think has worked best for you in terms of getting that consistency and being able to be better off the tee?

Yeah, so I think a large part of that is kind of what I went with my putting. Objectively and subjectively putting has always been the best part of my game, and all of a sudden, I got thrown on Tour the first year with these lightning fast and firm greens, and it just kind of threw my gyroscope off and my speed was really bad. So that’s what hurt my putting. And once I got the speed part down for the second year, I realized, hey, we’re putting the best greens in the world. Like, let’s just get the speed down, and that helped my putting a ton. And I’ve taken a similar approach with driving in terms of, for me, a lot of it is sightlines. I know I can step up there and hit my cut and work the ball and get creative, but a lot of holes just seem more intimidating to me with more hazards and thicker rough, so I put unnecessary pressure on myself.

And I’ve never been a great driver with a ball, but I’m like, “Dude, it’s just it’s as simple as the putting approach.” Like, now that I have better ideas with the sightlines and I know I don’t have to be perfect off the tee, that’s really freed me up. So it’s been just as much mental as it has been physical. And my body’s gotten a little bit better in the gym and knock on wood I’ve been very healthy. So I feel like I’m kind of able to hit shots that maybe I wasn’t able to hit the last few years because my body just wouldn’t let me do it. So just a combination of all that it’s awesome to see it pay dividends.

I mean, that’s golf, right? Like I think we so often get so focused on the mechanics and the physical aspect. And so often it’s, can you clear your mind and get that confident thought. Like, that can be as big or bigger than a swing tweak, right?

Exactly, exactly. And I really didn’t change much with my swing because me and my coach, we knew like, it’s there. Like the DNA of my iron swing, which has always been decent, is there. It’s just a matter of getting a little more confidence and maybe one or two tweaks that honestly for me has been resulting from the gym, just getting stronger with my core and my legs, I can get in positions I couldn’t before. So I 100 percent agree it’s just as much mental as it is physical.

That kind of takes me into Augusta. It’s one of those places that I feel like so much of the grind of Augusta is the mental toll it takes on you because you have to be on the right side of every hole. You can’t miss on the wrong side in the wrong spot. You look at the greens at Augusta and they’re so big, but the target areas are so small. And what was the adjustment period for you — obviously, you played really well there last year — but what was it like getting there and seeing it kind of in person and playing it for the first time last year?

It is such a trip seeing it for the first time especially in a tournament condition because the slopes are just — everyone tells you, right? Like the scopes are crazy, just expect more than you think. And then I get there and they’re even crazier than I think. Even Hole 1, like it was cold the first day and I’m like I can’t even get it up on top of this hill. Then I’m hitting a second shot from 180 yards on like a 12 percent upslope up into this green that just falls away in every direction and it just makes it more impressive watching all these guys for my whole life, you know, just, boom, blasting the middle of the green and having 15 feet for birdie on one. It’s like whoa, that’s a great shot.

But yeah, it’s crazy actually being there and seeing how penalizing it is to be on the wrong side of the holes and how penalizing it is if you — I mean, you’d rather have a 25 foot putt up the gutter where you’re supposed to leave rather than a six foot downhiller. And it seems crazy to say that but this is maybe the only course where that really, really holds true. And it’s just, yeah, again, it’s like the prep work has to be there, you got to make sure you’re in the right spots, and Augusta just puts that to a whole new level.

You’re partnered with with IBM who created the Hole Insights on the Masters app, and how much does stuff like that — all the data that the Masters keeps, where you can go back and watch shots, you can go back and see how things react. It’s the rare major where we go back to the same place every year. How helpful is all of that and what they’ve been able to build with the app as a player to do that prep work, especially going into your first last year?

I mean, I’ll be honest, IBM and the Masters have probably the best app in sports. I’ve used it the last, I don’t even know how many years, but I literally have my laptop, I’ll be watching Augusta, I have my laptop, I’d have my phone or on the app, I would have Masters leaderboard on my laptop. And it’s just the best. And honestly, like you said, going back and being able to look at all the shots that the guys that have played well and the guys that haven’t played well to see, like the places that they were that cost them, either make them a bogey or double, or make a birdie or an eagle. I’m guilty, I watched my own rounds like 10 or 15 times from last year just to see like, what did I do here? What did I do there? Because, you know, I won’t remember it. But it’s so nice to be able to go back in the app and just see every shot of every round.

masters app

And I know they have some new tech with their hole insights, which is really, really cool, and I’m gonna mess around with that, because they have 20,000 different locations where they use the coordinates to map exactly where the ball is. And I think it’s eight years of data that they have now that Watson X is building on to show certain really cool stats such as, you know, like Hole 1, if you miss left versus right, I bet missing left is a lot worse than missing right into that second shot. So just seeing, clicking through and seeing some spots where I have this perception of this might be this might be a good miss.

And then going into the app and seeing like, “Hey, what does the AI and the stats and objectively what does the show” and I bet there’ll be a few surprises where a spot on the course might look really tough, but it’s actually, historically, a lot of guys get up and down from there. So it’s gonna be really cool to click around and mess around. I love this kind of stuff. I mean, I don’t know how much — every Masters I probably spent 100 hours on the app in the four or five days. So that just shows how into it I am, and yeah, it’s just the best app and see them add more stuff with the whole generative AI thing is really cool.

You mentioned the patience required at Augusta. And when you go in there for the first time, how do you strike that balance of you want to be aggressive — as a golfer, you want to feel like you’re going after the course — but it’s a place where you have to be so smart in picking your spots. And what did you learn last year about that in your first Masters?

So I saw something about when the update to the new 2024 app was going to happen, so I went and I made sure before that happened, I went back to Jon Rahm’s entire 2023. It took me almost an hour to watch the whole thing. I was just so curious to see where he was and where he left all the shots. And I think historically, looking back, a lot of the guys have played aggressive to conservative spots. I mean, two of the best players of all time at Augusta are Tiger and Phil and I can’t remember how many shots they just hit right in the middle of the green and let the slopes take care of it. They’re not trying to force any issues or anything, other than like Phil’s shot out of the straw, but a lot of the times they’re just playing to the smart side. And that’s easier said than done.

But yeah, a lot of it is just is not forcing it and hitting in spots where you give yourself the best chance. And sometimes at Augusta it’s counterintuitive, and one hole I think of is Hole 2 to that front pin. A lot of the times that up and down from short is tough because you get caught in between trying to use the backstop or trying to go straight at it and you’re better off just bouncing it into the middle of the green or even over the green. Even though it seems crazy to mess with all those slopes, but that tilt of Hole 2 green is actually way more left right than it is back to front. So just stuff like that, watching shots over the years and realizing it’s actually true is cool.

What are your favorite holes at Augusta? Like as far as playing them, the ones that give you the most options, the most thoughts, and are just kind of the most fun ones to try and challenge?

Yeah, I’d say my favorite hole is probably 16. I’m a par-3 snob, and I love a good short par-3. And 16 is sneaky not that short. To a back pin, it’s still like almost 190 yards. And when it’s cold, I remember that back right pin — it was wet and windy, a little into, the tee was moved up — and I hit six iron and didn’t get up on top. But I think that’s such a great hole because obviously you see the hole-in-ones to the back left. You see so many people hit it to a foot to the front left pin. And then to counter that, if you don’t hit it in that section, if you leave it up right or hit it in the water or whatever it might be, it’s like almost an auto-bogey. And then you have those two right pins where it’s like, well, if I don’t hit it in that section I’m gonna have a really hard up and down or a really hard two-putt. So I just love holes like that.

15, again, is maybe one of the best par fives in the world. It’s an incredible risk-reward hole. And I really like the new back tee box, which might be a little bit of a hot take. Just because when you have a 7- or 6-iron, it’s kind of a no brainer from a statistical perspective to go for the green. But when you give guys a 4-iron or hybrid or 3-wood even, it really is a 50-50. I think from a subjective perspective of do I feel good about the shot and objective perspective of what’s my stroke average if I go for the green 100 times here versus weighing up 100 times. So I’d say 15-16 are my favorite. I mean, Amen Corner — 11, 12, 13 is insane. 9 and 10 sneaky might be two or two of the hardest holes, I don’t know what they play stroke average wise, but nine especially is so, so sneaky. That second shot is brutal. You’re hitting off a downhill to an uphill green.

The super tiered green and you got the control spin off a downslope. It’s nuts.

It is nuts.

I love what you said about about the par-3s. You see so many courses now where the idea with a par-3 is like, we’re gonna make it harder by making it 230 yards. And it’s like, I especially hate it at courses that somebody like me is gonna go play. Like, I hate when I go play my local course and all the par fours are 380 yards, but all the par-3s are 220. And it’s like, don’t add the yardage there! So I appreciate what you said about the value of short par-3s. But it’s the way that they protect the holes, right? It’s not the distance, it’s the way it’s built up.

Yes, 100 percent. And, again, Hole 4 at Augusta is a great example of a long par-3 that has so many different factors and there’s slopes that you can use to hit the ball close. It doesn’t feel like it’s an impossible hole, it doesn’t feel like you have to hit a 4-iron in a thimble. But I agree, I think short par-3s that are protected by a number of obstacles is the best, because you want to feel like you have this opportunity to make a two. But you also want to feel the pressure and the nerves to be like, alright, if I don’t hit the shot that I need to I might look really silly here. And I think 6 is another great example of a shorter par-3, or a lot of guys have, you know, 9-, 8-, 7-iron in, and then you get that back right pin and it’s just so nobular. I mean, you look like an idiot sometimes. You hit a good shot with an 8-iron and landed right on the nob and it rolls 50 feet short right, and you’re bringing double into play. So there’s just something exciting about par-3s and the fact that it’s right in front of, you see the entire hole, it’s just up to you to hit this one iron shot right where you’re looking.

Last thing, you mentioned 15. How small does that target look when you’re on top of that hill? Because it’s one of the things where on TV, I don’t think it comes through fully, but the first time I went and walked out there, I was like, how does anyone hit this thing with a long iron?

Yeah. By the way, I can’t wait to look at the hole insights on 15 just through the app, because I’m so curious to see what the actual numbers are for laying up, over the green, right greenside bunker, whatever it might be, and then just like the different areas that you can lay up to. So I’m going to be curious about that. And it’s a small target. I’ll tell you it is … laying up scares me because you have 100 yards into that green and you’re still not sure you can hit the green. So I’m like, “Alright, might as well just take my chances from 240-250 yards.” But it’s just a great designed hole, because you need to hit that second shot flush, because if you miss it a little bit short right, it takes the slope and comes back into the water. And then if you pull it and you’re like “I’m gonna bail, I’m just gonna go long.” If you pull it, it lands on the downslope behind the green and it could go in the water over the green, or you’re left with a really, really hard pitch shot.

So it’s just a brilliant hole. And again, I’m curious to see what IBM in the Masters app is going to have to say about what I do on that hole. Hopefully, it’s a lot of good things. I think I played the hole well last year. I think I made three birdies and no boo-boos, so, hopefully can keep that going.