Akshay Bhatia chips in for eagle to win second straight Junior PGA

Traci Edwards/PGA of America

Akshay Bhatia chips in for eagle to win second straight Junior PGA

Junior

Akshay Bhatia chips in for eagle to win second straight Junior PGA

How do you top a record-setting win at the Junior PGA Championship? Follow up with a clutch hole-out to go back-to-back.

Akshay Bhatia continued his ascension in junior golf Friday, chipping in for eagle at the 72nd hole of the Junior PGA Championship to win by one and earn his second straight title at one of junior golf’s most prestigious events. (He became the Junior PGA’s first back-to-back champion as well.)

The 16-year-old has gotten used to winning these types of tournaments. It was at this event last year where his run seemed to begin, as Bhatia posted a record 22-under 266 to win the 2017 Junior PGA.

He followed that up in 2018 by capturing the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley – considered by many the Masters of junior golf – romping to a 10-shot win against a stacked field at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior Amateur.

Halfway through the action this week at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., it didn’t seem another breathtaking Bhatia performance was in the cards. His second round produced a 4-over 76, dropped him seven back and appeared to doom his chances.

But that all changed just as quickly. Bhatia birdied three of his first four holes in Round 3 and went from there, firing a 7-under 65 to rocket into a share of the lead at 7 under heading into the final day.

The red numbers kept coming on Friday, as Bhatia opened birdie-birdie (chipping in on the first hole) and made six overall in his first 13 holes. But he mixed in three bogeys in that span and added another at the 17th. When Tommy Stephenson birdied the 18th to finish out a 6-under 66 and get in the clubhouse at 10 under, he had a one-shot lead.

That meant Bhatia had to birdie the closing par 5 to force a playoff.

Bhatia hit a 3-iron from 228 yards just over the green in two at the 18th but couldn’t get that birdie. He did a little better:

The 40-foot chip-in eagle instantly earned him a 4-under 68, an 11-under total and a one-shot win.

“To make the chip was unreal,” Bhatia said. “It was one of the clutchest moments of my career.”

Stephenson, a Fresno State commit, had to settle for solo second at 10 under. Canon Claycomb and Alexander Yang tied for third at 8 under. William Moll, who began the day tied for the lead, closed in 76 to drop to a tie for ninth at 3 under.

With this win Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., earns a spot on the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team. This stunning conclusion to the victory will also leave quite a mark in PGA lore.

Bhatia, Golfweek‘s top-ranked player in the Class of 2020, isn’t sure if he will play college golf or skip college to turn pro. He told Golfweek last month that he won’t have a good idea on that front until next year.

Well, whatever he decides … Bhatia seems to produce plenty of excitement wherever he plays.

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