Akshay Bhatia was the envy of junior golf recently at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic. He raced out to a 13-shot lead through 54 holes and won by 10 shots.
Bhatia isn’t sure what prompted the performance.
“I felt like I could go at every single pin and I wouldn’t miss a shot,” he said. “It just felt like it was so easy to me.”
That’s been a familiar feeling of late for the 16-year-old.
Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has burst onto the scene in the last calendar year. The left-hander made noise with a record-setting 22-under performance in victory at last summer’s Boys Junior PGA Championship. He backed it up with a win this spring at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley – considered by many the Masters of junior golf.
Then came that dominance at Polo, which also boasts a top-notch junior field. Bhatia currently is Golfweek’s top-ranked player in the Class of 2020.
What’s been the difference for Bhatia of late?
He grew up in California until he and his family moved east in 2011. Something clicked in the cross-country transition – a change that solidified his love of the game. He has been homeschooled the last three years to keep up with his busy golf schedule.
Golf-specific changes have also paid dividends.
Bhatia always fashioned himself a good putter and green-reader. But a piece of advice from Chris Wilson clicked. A bit over a year ago, the Web.com Tour player offered that rather than line the ball up on putts, Bhatia should use his eyes to see where the ball would go in.
It made Bhatia realize there are different ways to make a putt.
“That’s really just changed everything,” Bhatia said.
As has more versatility tee to green. The 6-foot, 123-pound Bhatia has seen his swing speed rise by approximately 15 mph this year and he can now pound drives 300-plus yards with regularity. But it’s his incorporation of a cut that has proved vital.
Bhatia had generally played a draw but began working with coaches prior to Sage Valley on fashioning a cut. The teenager felt his rough days were too poor, so adding on the cut as a go-to shot (and being able to work the ball both ways) would help prop up his consistency and confidence.
“That’s why I won Sage,” Bhatia said, “because I knew I could hit a cut and wouldn’t miss a fairway.”
What’s next for Bhatia? His older sister, Rhea, is a senior member of the Queens University of Charlotte women’s golf team. But he isn’t guaranteed to follow in the college path.
He’s already played in several Web.com and PGA Tour qualifiers, actually reaching an 8-for-6 playoff for spots in the Web.com Tour’s Rex Hospital Open in May before failing to advance.
Bhatia has visited Oklahoma State and USC, but he says he won’t have a good idea until next year if he’ll end up playing college golf.
He will compete in the Pacific Coast Amateur and hopes to qualify for the U.S. Amateur later this summer.
And if he could get into a PGA Tour event…
“That would kind of be the game-changer, just to see how good I can perform against those guys,” Bhatia said. Gwk