Will it be bad blood when Sahith Theegala and Andrew Putnam step onto the the first tee on Sunday, each having a chance to win the RSM Classic? Probably not, considering they are two of the more well-liked players on the PGA Tour and they are both alums of Pepperdine University. You know, Wave pride and all of that.
Putnam, who at 13 under is one stroke off the co-lead of Ben Martin and Patrick Rodgers, is 33 and graduated from the cliffs of Malibu, Calif., in 2011. His has been a journeyman’s career at this point, with his lone PGA Tour victory having come in the 2018 Barracuda Championship. Theegala, also 13 under, is a 24-year-old who was the swept the 2020 NCAA postseason awards at Pepperdine and made a sizable splash on the big tour in his rookie season. Yet he’s still looking for a maiden win after already posting seven tops-10 in the last 15 months.
There is also another Pepperdine connection that makes their final-round pairing at Sea Island Golf Club just a little bit juicier. Theegala’s caddie is Carl Smith, a former Pepperdine player and assistant coach who took up looping on the PGA Tour in 2015. Before that, he’d followed much of Theegala’s youth career and was a key, along with head coach Michael Beard, in convincing Sahith to choose Pepperdine.
But—and here’s where it gets intriguing—at the time Theegala turned pro, Smith was caddying for … Putnam, his former Waves teammate. When the time came for Sahith to go to Korn Ferry Tour Q School, Smith talked to Putnam about looping for Theegala that week, and Putnam did the gentlemanly thing and obliged.
It ultimately backfired on him when Theegala earned his PGA Tour card.
“[Smith] told he wasn’t going to bounce to [Theegala’s] bag,” Putnam recalled on Saturday. “They made it through and then he ended up firing me.”
That’s a tough deal, though Putnam contends that he’s understanding of it.
“It was all good,” he said, “because Carl recruited Sahith, and he had always wanted a young rookie who he could show the ropes, and I was OK with it.”
Putnam was asked how he thinks Smith has helped Theegala.
“I think more than anything, probably just making him comfortable out here,” he said. “When you’ve got a good friend on your bag, I think that just makes it easier just to get adjusted to being on the PGA Tour when you’re playing with all these bigger names and people you watch on TV. I know having a good friend on my bag early on was helpful and having my brother [Michael Putnam] ahead of me was extremely helpful. I’m sure Carl, he’s a very even-keel-type presence, so that’s probably helped Sahith to get off to such a good start.”
For his part, Theegala called Putnam “one of the nicest guys on tour.”
“He’s helped me a little bit last year just kind of coming on the scene. … His demeanor is incredible on the course. He’s so even-keeled. But I feel like he kind of fools a lot of people in that he’s a killer. His iron game is absurd.”
Putnam and his current caddie, Jordan Guilford, have been doing just fine in this early portion of the season. They’re 8-for-8 in cuts made and, with a second-round 62, Putnam contended deep into the Zozo Championship before tying for second.