SAMMAMISH — There was little doubt a Pepperdine golfer was going to win the prestigious Sahalee Players Championship at Sahalee Country Club on Wednesday afternoon.
The question was which one.
Joe Highsmith from Lakewood entered the final round two shots ahead of Waves teammate Sahith Theegala, who was eight shots ahead of the next-nearest competitor.
Highsmith answered one challenge after another, and finished off a wire-to-wire victory with a final-round 74. That gave him a two-shot win over Theegala, who won the title in 2017 and was trying to become the first player to win this amateur event twice.
Highsmith, who won the 2017 Washington State amateur and won the state 4A high school championship for Bellarmine Prep that same year, had a four-round total of 7-under 281. Highsmith and Theegala were the only players to finish under par.
They were joined in the final threesome by another Pepperdine player, Derek Hitchner.
“That was so much fun to play with them,” said Highsmith, who was named the West Coast Conference freshman of the year this past spring. “With all the pressure, it just lightened the mood to be with my close friends.”
Theegala moved into a share of the lead when he made a birdie on the par-3 fifth hole while Highsmith made a bogey. But Highsmith quickly regrouped and was up by four shots when he found trouble on the par-4 12th. His fourth shot, from the bunker, finished about 15 feet short.
Highsmith made the putt for a bogey, only costing him one shot.
“I think that the biggest thing I did all week was that bogey putt,” Highsmith said. “Doubles will just kill you.”
Theegala made a birdie on the 13th to close to two shots, but the lead was back to four when they reached the 16th hole and it seemed Highsmith would cruise to a win. But not so fast.
Highsmith made a double bogey, cutting his lead to two. Then, on the par-3 17th, he was faced with a long shot over water. A poor shot could cost him the tournament. No problem. He hit a great shot that went right over the flag, and parred that hole and the next, finally breathing easily when he dropped a four-foot putt on the 18th.
“I was so nervous,” Highsmith said of his shot over the water on the 17th. “I was shaking over that tee ball, but I just told myself, ‘You’ve to got to go all in and commit to it,’ and I went right at it. It was never over, and it was never easy.”
Highsmith, who said Sahalee is his favorite course in Washington, played it the first time in last year’s Sahalee Players Championship when he finished 34th.
Highsmith came to the event seven years ago as fan, to “watch Chris Williams, Beau Hossler and a lot of big names.”
“For me to come back as a player and win it is pretty special,” he said.