A calmer Clay Feagler on a roll for Pepperdine this spring


A calmer Clay Feagler on a roll for Pepperdine this spring


A calmer Clay Feagler on a roll for Pepperdine this spring

LAS VEGAS – Pepperdine opened the spring boasting a player that appeared ready to be unstoppable.

That’s still the case, but that guy may no longer be alone.

Sahith Theegala was the golfer who blitzed everyone at the opening Waves Challenge with a 16-shot triumph. The junior has backed it up with an ensuing pair of top 20s and comfortably remains the highest ranked player on the team (No. 13 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings).

But Clay Feagler is rising up fast.

The sophomore has started the spring T6-WIN-T5 to jump to No. 71 in the rankings. His run has continued this week at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, with rounds of 68 and 72 putting him in a tie for second and just two shots back heading into the final round against a strong field in Las Vegas.

“This semester, he’s tearing it up,” Theegala said.

And yet, Feagler has done it with precious few alterations. He hasn’t changed his swing nor performed any overhauls off the course.

All it comes down to, really, is more belief.

“Once you kind of get the confidence going, you know you’re going to hit the right shots and all that,” Feagler said.

OK, it’s a little bit more than that.

Feagler, in fact, has come a long way.

The 19-year-old didn’t have a smooth freshman year. Yes, the results tended to be solid – six top 20s in all – but his mental approach was a work in progress.

He was liable to overreact over smaller things frequently enough for team members to start jokingly calling him “DQ” for drama queen tendencies.

It was a light-hearted moniker for sure, but it could rear its head.

Like the time the team engaged in a practice game where Feagler did not perform well. Needing to pin the blame on something, he chose the fact his back was hurting – an ailment head coach Michael Beard knew wasn’t real.

“I called him out on it later. He didn’t like that,” Beard said with a laugh.

Feagler also tended to go through everything quickly on the golf course: talk fast, walk fast and the like. When he would get a few under par for the round, the urge to back off hit him.

Sophomore year has been a different story. Feagler has grown more aggressive on the course when he feels the low round coming and eschewed those speedy tendencies.

The DQ nickname has mostly been retired because it doesn’t really fit any more, either.

“He’s way more relaxed and calm out on the course than he used to be,” Beard said. “He’s been able to grow.”

Surely another year of maturity and travels on the road have helped. As has some outside encouragement.

Feagler had not posted a college win in his career entering the spring, and he wasn’t necessarily expecting one. That is until Pepperdine’s coaches and his mom both said he would get one this spring.

“After hearing that, it was like, ‘OK, Clay, maybe you should change your expectations,’ ” Feagler said.

But he was already frustrated after the first event. He finished a respectable T-6 at the Waves Challenge, but with Theegala’s 16-shot triumph, Feagler found himself 19 shots adrift by week’s end.

After finishing so far back, Feagler was vexed when he talked with Beard.

Coach, I don’t know if I can compete.

Beard reassured him, noting that, well, Theegala plastered everyone that week, it’s nothing wrong with you.

The coach’s words predicting a win in the spring weren’t empty ones. While Feagler didn’t post a top 10 all fall, Beard had noticed the potential was there. Multiple times, Feagler opened a tournament with a rough first round only to come back and post one of the event’s lowest totals over the final 36 holes.

Put it together for the whole tournament and he would be a winner.

Feagler, motivated to do better after finishing 19 shots back, proved Beard right when at the very next event, the Prestige at PGA West, he captured his first college victory.

The sophomore’s run bodes well for the Waves. Feagler may still be an underclassmen, but when he’s playing well he brings a little extra something to the squad.

He may be calmer, but Feagler’s not a shy one.

“He’s really our little spark plug,” Beard said. “We have a lot of quiet guys on the team and he’s one that keeps it fun.”

Feagler is the one on the team that’s known to get loud. Theegala notes his teammate shines as the center of attention.

Team meetings may be the best example. As coaches chart through the holes, Feagler is known to lose focus late and “start chirping.”

It leads to some memorable comments that Beard can’t exactly disclose, but it does add some spice to the matter.

“We get a little off track sometimes,” Beard said with a smile.

Regardless, Beard knows Feagler has grown and matured a great deal since his freshman year.

Feagler did start last spring with a T6-T6-T3 run, leading to his six top-20 campaign after a nondescript fall that produced no finishes better than T-44.

This run feels even more promising, though, at the moment. And there doesn’t seem much of a reason to think Feagler will slow down.

“There’s no real weakness to his game,” Theegala said.

The way Feagler’s playing, sounds about right.


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