No. 1-ranked Akshay Bhatia struggles in Sage Valley Junior Invitational first round

Carlton Reese

No. 1-ranked Akshay Bhatia struggles in Sage Valley Junior Invitational first round

Junior

No. 1-ranked Akshay Bhatia struggles in Sage Valley Junior Invitational first round

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GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Akshay Bhatia found himself in some rather unfamiliar territory on Thursday, looking up at a slew of players ahead of him on the leaderboard.

Bhatia, ranked No.1 for the past year in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, shot a 7-over 79 to put him 15 shots back and tied for 50th out of 54 players at the Sage Valley Junior Invitational, an event he won last year.

“You can’t play perfect golf every day,” Bhatia said. “Golf can be like that, all you can do is just try and grind it out.”

Bhatia failed to make a birdie in his round and saw matters head south early with a double bogey at the par-3 second hole. He later made bogey at the par-5 eighth where most players in the field subdued rather easily. A double bogey at 14 then bogeys at 16 and 18 capped a day marked by frustration.

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“The whole day I was just kind of wondering what’s going on. I haven’t played badly in the last year and a half. This is the first bad round, so it’s just questionable what happened.”

Bhatia played in the final group of the day, which meant he experienced a bit more wind than most players as a calm day grew steadily harsh as time elapsed.

Still, for Bhatia there were no excuses. Thursday just was not his day.

“It’s not fun not leading or being in contention,” Bhatia said. “Anything can happen in this game. I’m not going to say I will (get back in contention), but I will play my best tomorrow.”

For the past year, Bhatia has been perched comfortably at the top of junior golf, a position he relishes and hopes to remain in for the rest of his junior career. But Thursday seemed a bit humbling for Bhatia, who exuded much grace beyond his years following a disappointing round.

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He chose to reflect on some of the brighter sides of the day that did not even involve himself.

“The greatest thing today was seeing the little kid hold our sign today,” Bhatia said of the young standard-bearer who walked with his group the entire round. “That just kinda kept me happy. It’s not easy for a little 7-year-old or 8-year-old to do that all 18 holes. It was awesome; I was really proud of him.”

For now, Bhatia remains ranked No.1 and will continue to enjoy the ride.

“It’s been great; a lot of people of people look up to me and that’s something I do not take for granted. It’s self-belief, I don’t care if I’m ranked 20th or first or whatever, I’m still going to believe I’m number one. That’s the mindset my coach and I have tried to work on.

“Kids look up to me. I can’t make everyone happy. I don’t get upset at myself because this game can go a bunch of different ways: you can hit it terrible and shoot 5-under or you can hit it great and shoot 6-over.”

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