- The 19-year-old Indian American golfer finished the tournament at 24-under-par 192 to win by four strokes.
Indian American teen Akshay Bhatia has got his first victory on the GProTour by winning the 2021 Biggs Classic in North Carolina, this past weekend. Bhatia takes home $20,000. The Biggs Classic pays the largest purse on the GProTour, which features golfers who have played in either the Korn Ferry Tour, formally the Web.com Tour, or the PGA Tour.
As per the Chowan Herald, the 19 year-old from Wake Forest, North Carolina carded 11 birdies on his way to a 9-under par round of 63. He posted a 9-under-par 63 during the third and final round of the Biggs Classic on May 29, and finished the tournament at 24-under-par 192 to win by four strokes. “It took a lot,” Bhatia said after the tournament. “I had to play well. Everyone was chasing me.” He told the Chowan Herald, that a lot of the people playing at the classic “are good and are getting close to getting on the Korn Ferry Tour or the PGA Tour. It helps me understand how I can control my nerves under certain situations.”
On his Instagram page, Bhatia wrote: “Fun week getting my 3rd professional win this past weekend. Let’s keep this train moving.”
Lucas Euler of Scottsdale, Arizona, who began the final round tied for fifth place, matched Bhatia with a 9-under-par 63. But Bhatia had a strong finish. He birdied six of the last nine holes, including birdies on No. 16, No. 17 and No. 18 to secure the victory, a payout of $20,000 and 750 points towards the GPro Tour’s Race to the Albemarle Player of the Year competition.
Euler finished second at 20-under-par 196. “His round was highlighted by eagles on nine and 12 and six birdies, but gave back shot with a bogey on the sixth hole,” Chowan Herald reported. Bryson Nimmer was third at 19-under-par 197, Carson Young was fourth at 18-under-par 198 and Mookie DeMoss finished fifth at 16-under-par 200.
Bhatia, who’s just “Shay” to his family and friends, turned professional in September 2019. But it was a rocky start. He made his PGA Tour debut at the Valspar Championship on a sponsorship exemption, but he missed the cut. That season (2019-2020), Bhatia missed making the cut in six tournaments. Right before turning professional, Bhatia won the 2019 Jones Cup Invitational.
However, he had better luck at the mini tours. Bhatia made his mini tour debut in April 2019 on the Web.com Tour, at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship, where he made the cut and finished T-42. The Web.com Tour, also known as the Korn Ferry Tour, is the developmental tour for the PGA Tour.
“I just gained a lot of confidence playing mini-tour events,” Bhatia told Golf Digest. “I won my first one and that was a huge stepping stone for me. Then I made my first cut, finished in the top-10, which was great. Just doing that over the course of a year was really big for me, and I just know that I’m progressing every time I’m teeing it up.”
Late summer last year, things started looking better for the North Carolina teen. His foray into professional golf came right after he competed in the 2019 Walker Cup. He was the first high school player to make the Walker Cup team for the United States. The Walker Cup is a golf trophy contested in odd-numbered years by leading amateur golfers in two teams: United States, and Great Britain and Ireland.
That was followed by his professional debut at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi in September 2020. “That feeling when the time has officially come,” Bhatia wrote then on Instagram. “A special thanks to everyone on my team that has helped me get here this week, especially my family for supporting me all the way. Let’s do this!” After his debut, he played the Safeway Open, where he won his first top-10 on the PGA Tour, a T-9. Before his pro debut, Bhatia won the ST 11 @ Old South Golf in Hilton Head, South Carolina, an event on the Swing Thought Tour, by three strokes. The Swing Thought Tour is the oldest developmental golf tour in the U.S.
Although Bhatia has just begun his professional career, Golf Digest says “he has already earned a net worth of $200,000 from his short professional career.” He didn’t “make a penny” in his first six events in the 2019/20 season, the Digest notes, and adds: “In the on-going season, Akshay has played in four events in which he has made cuts in three games and finished in the top 10 in one event.”
Last March, Bhatia finished in the top 40 of qualifying for Canada’s Mackenzie Tour “to earn conditional status, but the start of that circuit’s season was postponed and a restart date has yet to be announced,” the Digest says. He also was scheduled to play in the Hero Indian Open in March on a sponsor’s invite before the European Tour cancelled that tournament.
Bhatia’s appearance can be deceptive. The lanky, tall teen, with his trendy glasses (he cannot put the contacts in, Bhatia told Walter magazine), has a powerful swing. Golf Digest says Bhatia’s “swing speed teetering on 125 mph” is about 5 mph more than the “the high 120s” which “is among the fastest on the PGA Tour.” Bhatia stands six feet tall and 130 lbs.
And it is not just his swing that makes Bhatia a golf phenomenon. His entry into the professional league is rare as well. Bhatia turned down college for a chance to live his dream, a discussion he first had with his father in eighth grade. Bhatia, who has been homeschooled since eighth grade, graduated in 2018. Golf Digest says, Bhatia’s decision to turn professional at age 17 was “a controversial choice, as virtually every great American player spent at least some time on a college campus.”
Jordan Spieth played a year-plus at Texas, Justin Thomas did two at Alabama, Matt Wolff did two at Oklahoma State, Collin Morikawa stayed a full four at Cal-Berkeley. “And despite a decorated junior career that saw him emerge as the consensus top junior in the country, many felt Bhatia would be well-served by the increasingly competitive college game,” the Digest says.
(Top photo: Courtesy: GProTour)