Five things you should know about Akshay BhatiaAt age 17, the rising star is playing on a sponsor exemption this week at the Valspar Championship
March 20, 2019
By Staff , PGATOUR.COM
- March 20, 2019
Akshay Bhatia on his future ahead of Valspar
Akshay Bhatia is making his PGA TOUR debut at this week’s Valspar Championship. You may want to keep tabs on him – he’s 17 years old and has the golf world buzzing as the next big thing.
Bhatia, playing on a sponsor exemption, is paired with Chase Wright and Kramer Hickok, with the threesome teeing off in the last group of the day off the 10th tee Thursday at 2:31 p.m. ET.
This won’t be the last TOUR event you’ll see him at this year. Bhatia, a tall, thin lefthander from Wake Forest, North Carolina, already has a spot at The RSM Classic next fall, thanks to his recent win at the Jones Cup Invitational. He’s currently ranked eighth in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Here’s five things you should know about him.
1. He plans to turn pro soon.
Bhatia, who doesn’t turn 18 until Jan. 2, 2020, is hoping to participate in the Walker Cup in early September at Royal Liverpool. If he does so, he would be the first high schooler to ever play for the U.S. team at that amateur event. Winning the Jones Cup last month was a big step in earning that honor. After the Walker Cup, Bhatia will turn pro instead of opting to remain an amateur and play in college.
“That’s definitely a goal of mine to make the team and to represent the United States once again,” said Bhatia, who three months ago was one of the 16 amateurs included in a U.S. Walker Cup practice session. “After that, I think I have a pretty good game plan as far as turning pro and my scheduling going forward.”
2. School, quite frankly, doesn’t suit him.
Bhatia was in eighth grade – which, mind you, wasn’t that long ago – when he had a discussion with his dad Sonny, who noticed that Akshay simply wanted to concentrate on playing golf, practicing golf, competing in golf events, etc. “You know what – let’s just not go to college. Let’s not do it,” Sonny told his son.
Akshay quickly agreed with the move.
“I’m an 8th grader,” he said. “Of course, I’m going to say no to school.”
“I have never liked school,” Akshay explained. “I’ve never been very smart going in, sitting in a classroom – and I have the worst attention span when it comes to it. I just love being outside. I love playing golf and I love competing.”
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t tempted. He visited a couple of colleges, and spoke to a few college coaches, including at Oklahoma State. He said if he had gone to college, it would’ve been either in Stillwater, Oklahoma, or in Palo Alto, California at Stanford.
“I’m not saying college is a bad thing, because so many great players have come out strong. Playing four years at college and trying to win a national champion is probably one of the best feelings and one of the greatest things.”
It just wasn’t for him.
3. Akshay’s interest in golf started with his older sister.
Rhea Bhatia is about four years older than Akshay, who was a child when he first saw his sister swinging a club. “He wanted to play really badly at first but was too young,” Sonny told the Raleigh News and Observer, the family’s hometown newspaper in North Carolina. “I said, ‘Watch your sister and your time will come.’ They’ve both been playing golf ever since. Both love golf.”
Rhea, the 2015 4A Regional champion as a high schooler, played two years on the women’s team at Queens University of Charlotte.
4. He first gained national attention in 2017.
That’s when, as a 15-year-old, he won the Boys Junior PGA Championship – and set several records in doing so at the Country Club of St. Albans. Akshay took control of the tournament with a second-round 61, then finished at 22 under for a three-stroke victory. His winning score was five strokes better than Pat Perez’ previous mark.
During that week, Akshay made 24 birdies, as well as two eagles, and suffered just six bogeys.
More important, he realized he was pretty good at this game.
“I told my dad prior to the tournament, ‘I’ve just never played good enough to win a big event… I don’t think I’m ready to be good enough,” Akshay recalled. “That week, it changed my whole outlook on my game.”
5. He’s enjoyed plenty of cool golf moments.
There was the 63 he shot at famed Pinehurst No. 2, when it was playing at 6,300 yards during a U.S. Kids World Golf Championship event. Oh, and he also aced the par-3 17th at that course, which has hosted three U.S. Opens, a Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship.
In 2014, he participated in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National, the weekend before the start of the Masters. He was among 88 juniors who advanced their way to the finals, and his family was there to enjoy the moment.
“So humbling and such a great experience,” dad Sonny told the News and Observer.
He’s had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at a Walker Cup event – and heard Nicklaus say, “You know, when I went to college, I didn’t learn much.” Said Akshay: “Which is funny, because you know, arguably the best player in the golf.”
At the recent Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship, Akshay shot a tournament-record 10 under at TPC Myrtle Beach en route to winning the event. Afterward, Akshay said Johnson “is a mentor of mine. It was an amazing week.”
Then during a practice round this week at the Copperhead Course, Akshay played with Jon Rahm. “I have a friend that is good friends with him, so he hooked me up with the invitation to play with Jon,” Akshay explained. “… I just asked him some stuff about what his experiences was when he was playing in his first PGA TOUR event and just got to know him a little bit. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be talking to him more.”
Earlier this week, Akshay ran into DJ again and they had a short chat. “It’s cool because I’m slowly building relationships out here and for the future,” he said. “It’s going to be great just to lean on them a little bit.”
✅ 17 years old— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 19, 2019
✅ No. 1 junior in the country
✅ @AJGAGolf Player of the Year
✅ High school junior
✅ Won 2019 Jones Cup
✅ Coached by George Gankas, Allen Terrell and Chase Duncan
Akshay Bhatia makes his PGA TOUR debut this week @ValsparChamp.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/BbabiNNRGh