17-year-old amateur Akshay Bhatia expected to make cut in Web.com RTJ event

Mickey Welsh, Advertiser

17-year-old amateur Akshay Bhatia expected to make cut in Web.com RTJ event

Amateur

17-year-old amateur Akshay Bhatia expected to make cut in Web.com RTJ event

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PRATTVILLE, Ala. — Akshay Bhatia’s energetic jumps were meant to warm up his body and ward off the cool temperatures that plagued Capitol Hill on Friday.

But they also displayed the enthusiasm he had both as a teenager … and a teenager playing in a professional golf tournament.

Bhatia, a 17-year-old amateur, shot a 2-under 70 on Friday and was expected to make the cut in the Web.com Tour RTJ Golf Trail Championship. The top 65 players and ties make the cut, and Bhatia was 1 under (73-70) and T-47 when play was suspended due to darkness.

“It’s great out here,” Bhatia said of making his Web.com Tour debut. “Anytime I can step up and play against pros, guys who have been on the tour, it’s great.

“I get a little taste of it before I actually turn pro. It’s cool.”

Bhatia, a homeschooled high school junior from North Carolina, made the RTJ tournament field by shooting 4 under in Monday’s qualifier.

Bhatia played in the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship last month in Florida on a sponsor exemption. His 74-72 missed the cut by three strokes.

“With how far he hits it, he can compete with any of us,” said Jimmy Stanger, who played in the group in front of Bhatia’s on Thursday and Friday.

“It’s just a matter of how mentally mature he is,” Stanger said. “For him to be hanging around here shows how good he’s going to be. Especially if you give him a couple of years.”

At Capitol Hill, he’s playing on ground that has been good to teenagers before.

Lexi Thompson played in an LPGA tournament on the same course when she was 14 years old. In 2011, Thompson was 16 when she won the same tournament — and shattered a 59-year-old LPGA record as the tour’s youngest winner.

Akshay Bhatia lines up a putt during the second round of the Web.com Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship in Prattville, Ala., on Friday April 19, 2019. ( Mickey Welsh, Advertiser)

“Robert Trent Jones, I guess, has some magic to it,” Bhatia said.

He said he doesn’t feel his age — or lack thereof — affects how the Web.com regulars treat him.

“But I never see myself as a 17-year-old,” Bhatia said. “I always feel older.”

Bhatia played with someone close to his age Thursday and Friday and said he didn’t waste the opportunity to ask a few questions about his situation. Davis Riley, another Monday qualifier, is in his first year as a professional after playing at the University of Alabama.

“I asked him about college. ‘How was it?’ The decision to turn pro now vs. after you graduate,” Bhatia said. “It was fun because he’s in my age division, sort of.

“He kind of understands my language.”

In Friday’s second round, he was 3 under after 11 holes before two straight bogeys. He recovered on 15 and 16 with consecutive birdies.

“Those were two big putts,” Bhatia said. “But I didn’t finish great. Overall, it’s cool.”

Bhatia bogeyed No. 18, which left him sweating the cut.

“I just felt like I hit a lot of greens,” Bhatia said. “I feel like I’m not playing very well, but to manage a 2 under today was pretty decent.”

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