Golf

This teenage golf phenom who receives instruction on the Grand Strand is set to turn pro

Wake Forest’s Akshay Bhatia hits his shot on the 15th hole during the final round of the 2018 Boys Junior PGA Championship held at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Bhatia eagled the final hole to win by a stroke and repeat as champion.
Wake Forest’s Akshay Bhatia hits his shot on the 15th hole during the final round of the 2018 Boys Junior PGA Championship held at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Bhatia eagled the final hole to win by a stroke and repeat as champion.

Things are going according to plan in the young golfing career of Akshay Bhatia.

The 17-year-old, who receives instruction from Allen Terrell of the Dustin Johnson Golf School at TPC Myrtle Beach, is already achieving goals that require several more years for even some of the world’s top golfers.

Bhatia, 17, was named to the U.S. Walker Cup team on July 24, becoming the first high school golfer in history to be named to the team.

He will be participating Sept. 7-8 at Royal Liverpool in England in the biennial matches pitting amateur teams from the United States and Great Britain/Ireland.

“It’s definitely something I never would have expected,” Bhatia said Monday. “To actually get that phone call and just to represent the United States of America once again in probably the biggest team event in amateur golf is just going to be an amazing experience for sure.”

The day after being named to the U.S. team, Bhatia confirmed it would be his final amateur event.

He will make what is likely his first PGA Tour start as a professional on a sponsor’s exemption at the Safeway Open beginning Sept. 26 at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif., the third event of the 2019-20 schedule.

It is preceded on the tour’s schedule by A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in West Virginia from Sept. 12-15 and Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi from Sept. 19-22, and he is open to playing in a pro event prior to the Safeway if he receives an invitation.

The Wake Forest, N.C., resident announced in May that he had signed with Lagardere Sports and Entertainment for management and marketing representation and told The Sun News in March that he would likely turn pro after the Walker Cup, if he was chosen to participate.

Bhatia is ranked fourth in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, and was one of three players chosen on July 24 based on their ranking, along with No. 1 Cole Hammer (age 19) and No. 5 Stewart Hagestad (age 28).

They will be on the 10-player team captained by Nathaniel Crosby, the 1981 U.S. Amateur champion and son of entertainer Bing Crosby.

Bhatia has previously represented the U.S. in the 2017 Junior Presidents Cup and 2018 Junior Ryder Cup, and is hoping Terrell will be able to accompany him to the Walker Cup matches.

“It would be special to share the moment with him, with all the hard work we’ve put in, my other coaches have put in, my family, just everyone helping me prepare for what’s to come,” Bhatia said. “I always want to have a great team and obviously Allen has worked with some of the greatest players in the world. He’s been around the touring pros and he’ll be able to show me around, meeting the players and getting used to the environment out there and how I can be mentally fresh for every single week.”

Terrell is one of Bhatia’s two swing coaches, along with Southern California-based coach George Gankas. Terrell has known Gankas for a few years through Johnson, whom he coached at Coastal Carolina and has continued to work with through Johnson’s progression to one of the world’s top professionals.

Gankas is close to the family of Johnson’s fiancée Paulina Gretzky and teaches her younger brother Tristan, as well some PGA and Web.com tour players, including 2018 NCAA freshman of the year and recent PGA Tour winner Matthew Wolff, formerly of Oklahoma State.

Bhatia last saw Terrell in person at his first PGA Tour event, the Valspar Championship in March, and was last on the Grand Strand when he won the Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship at TPC Myrtle Beach in early March.

He talks to Terrell on the phone when he needs to and will send him video of his swing if necessary. “I’ve been hitting it really well, so there’s not much help I need right now,” Bhatia said. “He and George are always available to me 24-7 which is awesome. I can always trust what they tell me.”

Bhatia’s only other scheduled amateur event is the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 and No. 4 courses beginning Monday.

He is still fourth in the WAGR and has won five junior and amateur events in the past year, highlighted by a victory at the Jones Cup Invitational, perhaps the preeminent amateur event of the winter.

He made his first start on the PGA Tour in March at the Valspar Championship and missed the cut by three shots with a 4-over 74-72–146, and was able to Monday qualify and tie for 42nd at the Korn Ferry Tour’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship in April.

Bhatia plans to participate in the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament in the fall, and is expected to begin in the Second Stage because of his top-five amateur ranking.

Four-Ball upcoming

Wachesaw Plantation Club’s 11th annual 4-Ball Invitational Championship, which has attracted quality fields from throughout the U.S. since its inception, will be played Oct. 18-20 at the private club in Murrells Inlet.

There are three scratch divisions for the 54-hole event – Mid-Amateur for players 25 and older, Senior (55 and older) and Super Senior (65 and older) – and the field will be limited to 60 total teams. Registration closes Oct. 1.

The first 52 teams to register will be entered, and the remaining eight teams will be selected by the tournament committee from the other entries.

The entry fee of $650 per team includes lunch two days and an awards brunch at Kimbels Restaurant near the 18th green following the final round. Skins games are optional. Approximately the top 30-35 percent of each division’s teams will receive golf shop credit.

Contact tournament chairman Mike Daniels at 843-458-1580 or Wachesaw head pro Joe Gagliano at 843-357-1500 for more information.

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