With his Girlfriend as Caddie, Golfer Akshay Bhatia Wins the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic
- The 19-year-old Indian American assumes the No.1 spot on the season-long Korn Ferry Tour Points List, as he eyes his first PGA Tour card.
Indian American golfer Akshay Bhatia has won the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic in his first Korn Ferry Tour start as a member. Bhatia finished 14-under total at the Sandals Emerald Bay on Jan. 19, “rallying from a three-stroke deficit with a sterling seven-birdie, no-bogey effort,” according to PGA Tour.
As the winner of the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour season-opening event, the 19-year-old from Wake Forest, North Carolina assumes the No. 1 spot on the season-long Korn Ferry Tour Points List, as he eyes his first PGA Tour card. This is Bhatia’s sixth KFT start of his career. He is the third-youngest winner in Korn Ferry Tour history, behind only Jason Day (2007 Legend Financial Group Classic) and Sungjae Im (2018 The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic).
Bhatia’s win is sweeter as he was accompanied by his girlfriend, Presleigh Schultz, as his caddie. Bhatia and Schultz met online last April before the Valero Texas Open when he messaged her on Instagram and the pair hit it off. “And, so we met there and now she’s caddying in my first Korn Ferry event as a member, which is awesome,” Bhatia said in a video posted by PGA Tour. She has helped him to a groundbreaking victory, despite admitting earlier in the week that she knows nothing about golf.
“What a week, so proud of @akshaybhatia_1 for his first win on the @kornferrytour such a cool feeling to be by his side this week with him!!” Schultz, a content creator, wrote in her latest Instagram post. He has a little under 16,000 followers on Instagram and over 76,000 followers on TikTok. Her latest video on TikTok is a compilation of her week with Bhatia in the Bahamas.
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. The young golfer courted controversy when he turned professional at age 17, “as virtually every great American player spent at least some time on a college campus,” according to Golf Digest. 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 said.
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.
When Bhatia was in eighth grade, his father noticed that all his son wanted to do was to concentrate on playing golf, practicing golf, and competing in golf events. “You know what – let’s just not go to college. Let’s not do it,” Sonny told his son. Bhatia quickly agreed with the move. “I’m an 8th grader,” he said. “Of course, I’m going to say no to school,” he said in an interview with pgatour.com. “I have never liked school,” he explained. “I’ve never been very smart going in, sitting in a classroom — and I have the worst attention span when it comes to it. I just love being outside. I love playing golf and I love competing.”
That said, he did visit a few colleges, and spoke to a few college coaches, including at Oklahoma State. He told pgstour.com that if he had gone to college, it would’ve been either in Stillwater, Oklahoma or in Palo Alto, California at Stanford. “I’m not saying college is a bad thing because so many great players have come out strong,” he said. “Playing four years at college and trying to win a national championship is probably one of the best feelings and one of the greatest things.”
Bhatia first gained national attention in 2017 when he played with the winning team of the 2017 Junior Presidents Cup. At the Boys Junior PGA Championship, Bhatia, then 15, set several records. “He carded an all-time course and championship record 61, at the 42nd Boys Junior PGA Championship” at the Country Club of St. Albans in Missouri, according to the JuniorPGA website.
After going pro in 2019, Bhatia had a rocky start. Bhatia 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. Last June, 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.
With the fourth win of his professional career, a great game, a powerful swing, talent, the right attitude and age on his side there is no doubt Bhatia is looking for more wins as he eyes his first PGA Tour.