Ready to Toast: Indian American Golfer Akshay Bhatia Wins Second Place at Puerto Rico Open
- With this feat, the 21-year-old wins a special temporary PGA Tour membership, allowing him to accept unlimited sponsors exemptions.
Golfer Akshay Bhatia came in at second place at the recently-held Puerto Rico Open, earning a special temporary PGA Tour membership. The 21-year-old from Wake Forest, North Carolina, “birdied his final four holes en route to a final-round 7-under 65,” Golf Digest said. He finished at 19 under, two strokes behind champion Nico Echavarria.
As a Special Temporary member of the Tour, Bhatia, who turned professional at age 17, will no longer be limited to just 12 PGA Tour starts per season, and he can accept unlimited sponsors exemptions, rather than the seven exemptions that non-members are allowed, the Gold Digest said.
“I can’t believe I’m crying, oh, my God,” Bhatia said after the win. “It means a lot. I mean, I worked really hard. It’s been a crazy journey, for sure. Last year was really disappointing, I got hurt and didn’t get my card through the Korn Ferry Tour. I mean, it’s crazy.” He said he “didn’t even know I shot 7 under. I mean, chipped in three times on the same hole (the par-3 16th) though this week.”
Calling it a great story, he said he wants to write “a book about my life and my journey. It’s definitely going to be a really good chapter, for sure.” He told Sports Illustrated that he’s “excited to get home to his family, where he can hopefully share a drink with his parents now that he’s legally able to drink.”
Bhatia had a distinguished junior career and was the first high-schooler to play on the U.S. Walker Cup team. Although colleges were lining up for his services, he decided to bypass a colligate career and turn pro at age 17 in 2019. But he had a rocky start.
He spent the bulk of his last two seasons relying on sponsor’s exemptions into PGA Tour events. Golf Digest notes that “while he mostly struggled, he did manage a T-9 finish in the 2020 Safeway Open and a T-30 at the 2021 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.” He also made the weekend at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, ultimately finishing in a tie for 57th.
In June 2021, Bhatia got his first victory on the GProTour by winning the 2021 Biggs Classic in North Carolina. He finished the tournament at 24-under-par 192 to win by four strokes. A few months later in August, he placed T-41 at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, which gave him an exemption into the Final Stage of KFT Q-School.
Bhatia tied for 63rd and didn’t earn guaranteed starts, but his priority ranking got him into the ’22 Korn Ferry Tour season-opening Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. He took advantage of that opportunity, winning the tournament just 12 days before his 20th birthday. He became the third-youngest winner in the Korn Ferry Tour history, behind Sungjae Im and Jason Day.
The young golfer, who is not in the field for the upcoming Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, will continue on his ways at next week’s Valspar Championship, a tournament where he once played as a 17-year-old amateur on a sponsor’s invite.