(August 1, 2023) Imagine being one of the best amateur golfers in the United States of America, dreaming to become a professional player and winning several tournaments for the country in the coming years. However, when the opportunity came, you couldn’t perform up to your potential. 21-year-old Akshay Bhatia was quite heartbroken when he couldn’t cut in any of the six PGA Tour starts in September 2019. “I struggled mentally, I missed every cut,” the golfer recalled, “I had a lot of people expecting me to play well and it didn’t happen.”
But while several others would have lost hope, Akshay dug in further and worked very hard on honing his skill further. The golfer, who acknowledged that he faced challenges upon turning pro, took the pandemic as an opportunity to pause, re-evaluate, and gain valuable insights. “I got to sit back, talk to my coach, realise where I’m at in my life. After that, you know, I’ve just climbed the mountain slowly and slowly and slowly,” he shared. And he might have just made a significant stride by winning his maiden PGA Tour title at the Barracuda Championship in California, defeating Patrick Rodgers. The win will earn the Indian American golfer earned him full Tour status and a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Inspired to greatness
Born in Northridge, California to an Indian couple, Akshay’s childhood was not unlike other immigrant kids in the USA. However, his life was shaped due to his sister’s passion for the sport. As a young child, the golfer witnessed his elder sister, Rhea Bhatia, swinging a golf club for the first time. In the following years, Rhea’s dedication to the sport paid off, as she achieved the title of 2015 4A Regional Champion during her high school days. Notably, she continued her golfing journey as a valued member of the women’s team at Queen’s University of Charlotte.
Soon the young golfer started playing the sport and found it quite immersing. Having a remarkable junior career, the Global Indian achieved the distinction of being the first high-schooler ever to participate in the U.S. Walker Cup team. Coached by George Gankas since he was 13, Bhatia kept on piling up amateur victories till he began getting noticed. In 2017, the golfer caught the nation’s attention when he contributed to the victorious team in the 2017 Junior Presidents Cup. Remarkably, at the age of 15, Bhatia made his mark at the Boys Junior PGA Championship by setting multiple records. According to the JuniorPGA website, the golfer, “carded an all-time course and championship record 61, at the 42nd Boys Junior PGA Championship at the Country Club of St. Albans in Missouri.”
In 2018, Akshay secured the runner-up position at the U.S. Junior Amateur tournament. The golfer showcased his talent at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics, where he earned two silver medals – one in the boy’s event and another in the mixed team event alongside Lucy Li. Moreover, his pivotal performance contributed to the triumph of the US team in the Junior Ryder Cup held in the same year.
Looking past his failures
After failing in the September 2019 golfing season, he kept working on his game. And just four months before turning 20, Akshay achieved a historical feat. The golfer lifted his maiden Korn Ferry Tour (KFT) title at the $750,000 Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. He became only the third Indian-origin golfer to do so after Daniel Chopra and Arjun Atwal. At the age of 19 years, 11 months, and 19 days, the golfer achieved the distinction of being the third-youngest professional golfer to secure a victory on the development circuit, joining the ranks of notable players such as Jason Day and Sungjae Im.
And now, the golfer is now one step closer to his dream of being on the PGA Tour. After winning his first PGA Tour title, Akshay got emotional while interacting with the media. “I can’t even talk,” he said, adding, “I’m just excited. I love playing golf, I love playing on the PGA Tour, and it’s just a dream come true to have it.” Recognising the challenges he faced along the journey, the golfer acknowledged that it had been “a really tough road.” However, he said that he always knew that he was “going to get here, it was just a matter of time. For it to happen this year with Special Temporary Membership and now to get to play all these events and to get it done today was, I can’t even describe it.”
The young golfer is looking forward to playing several international tournaments in the upcoming season and winning many as well. “Good golf takes care of itself and if I play good golf, the rankings will go up. I don’t look at it too much. My goal is to get into the US Open,” he shared.
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