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'Race your race': How Akshay Bhatia remains focused while eyeing second TOUR win

4 Min Read



    Written by Kevin Robbins

    SAN ANTONIO — The leader of the Valero Texas Open says he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s growing into them.

    Akshay Bhatia is a one-time PGA TOUR winner and has been a professional since 2019, but the fact remains: He is only 22 years old. Someone that young might prefer to avoid embracing the stress of leading a tournament after 54 holes, especially with a four-stroke lead. But Bhatia seems to almost thrive on it.

    He has certain ways of dealing with it all. For example, on Saturday morning, after he discussed with his sports psychologist the many possibilities, good and bad, that come with playing in the last group with a lead, Bhatia took a black marker and wrote the words “Race Your Race” on his left wrist. It was a reminder for the part of him that is still young and raw.

    “I’m just going at my own pace, focusing on myself, keeping the blinders right in front of me,” he said. “I looked at it all the time.”

    It seemed to work. Bhatia shot 4-under 68 on a rain-softened TPC San Antonio, growing his lead to four. He made two bogeys, six birdies and a lot of new fans. He said he never let his mind wander into dark places. He relied on the lessons his mental coach, Ryan Davis of the Center for Athletic Performance Enhancement, has been trying to embed. He kept his head up, his eyes straight ahead.

    “I was never calm today,” Bhatia admitted, “and it was the hardest thing to deal with. It’s just so hard. You feel so tense, and all these things in your stomach, your mind can kind of go one way. I kept to my game plan.”

    Akshay Bhatia drains birdie putt at Valero

    The winner of the 2023 Barracuda Championship, Bhatia has a story that many now know. He grew up in California and North Carolina. He skipped college. He wanted the dream of professional golf sooner than most. A lot of it has been hard: the travel, the emotions, the business, the grind, the belief, the faith. He’s growing and leaning into those complexities in ways his peers admire.

    “We all battle,” said Brendon Todd, who played with Bhatia in the third round. “Golf is an emotional, stressful sport. That’s why we love it.”

    Bhatia, Todd said, projects a quiet sense of duty — as if his acceptance of the difficulty of tournament golf strengthens him.

    His conversations with Davis, by phone or on Zoom, help him find his way. He does so at his own pace. They talk about more than golf shots or winning tournaments, Bhatia said. They talk about the things a 22-year-old might not understand yet about performing under difficult conditions and learning to love that life choice regardless of whether he succeeds.

    “I’ve never had an easy life growing up,” Bhatia said. “So anytime anyone sees, ‘Oh, this kid’s making a ton of money, he’s playing on the PGA TOUR, he’s won on the PGA TOUR, that’s just not it. There’s so much more to it than just golf.”

    But the golf? This week, there’s been no one better at it than Bhatia.

    He shot a 9-under 63 on a rugged, wind-scraped Oaks Course in round one. He followed that with a 2-under 70 to move his lead to five. After 54 holes, he ranks first in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, second in Approach the Green, second in Putts per Green in Regulation and fifth in Strokes Gained: Around the Green. He looks untouchable. He knows he is not.

    “I was talking to my psychologist last night,” Bhatia said. “Just all the stories that could happen. What if I lose this lead? What if this lead goes to 10? So many things are in your mind.”

    By the end of a cooler, misty and slightly less windy Saturday afternoon in south Texas, the questions haven’t gone away. Bhatia wasn’t running from them. He was moving toward them. After his round, Bhatia spoke openly — almost enthusiastically — about the challenges he faces with one round to go. He said there was no use in pretending.

    “I’m just true to myself,” he said. “I mean, I’d rather speak it to someone than not at all. I love sharing my story. I love being honest and whether I get hate for it or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s kind of who I am and who I try to be.”

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