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The Grind

Akshay Bhatia’s wild Texas love story, Anthony Kim’s wild claims and an Augusta National walk-off putt

April 09, 2024

Welcome to another edition of The Grind, where we found that solar eclipse to be a tad overrated. After days of planning kids’ pickups around this event, that was all it was? That’s what parents, including us, were all stressed out about? C'mon, science. You can do better. Anyway, speaking of kids, how about that Drive, Chip and Putt Contest? A bunch of youngsters who put my golf swing to shame:

Amazing. Anyway, I promise not to be a total buzzkill. After all, the vibes are high coming off a BIG gambling win and heading into MASTERS week. Let’s get to it!

WE’RE BUYING

Akshay Bhatia: It was only fitting that a graduate of the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt would earn the biggest win of his career (so far) at the Valero Texas Open on the 10-year anniversary of the Augusta National event.

Wow. Even Michael Jordan thinks those pants are too baggy. Anyway, how about this young man’s game and confidence?

Of course, Bhatia bettors like myself were thinking more WTF as that six-shot lead disappeared on the back nine, but the 22-year-old came through on a wild Sunday in San Antonio and now he’ll return to Augusta National for the first time in a decade. Phew. And thank you, Ak$hay! That being said, injuring your shoulder celebrating a made putt and needing a trainer during the playoff set the “Golfers are athletes” movement back a few years.

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Raj Mehta

Not to mention this rough high-five with his caddie:

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Brennan Asplen

Although we'll give them a pass since it was their first week working together. Anyway, long live Ak$hay! I might treat myself to something at the Masters merch shop now. Something real nice.

Denny McCarthy’s putting: We’ve long known about this dude’s money stroke on the course—and on the court—but this was just absurd. McCarthy matched a PGA Tour record for fewest putts over 72 holes with 92 (!) and birdied the final seven (!!) holes of regulation, looking like he would pick up his maiden win before Bhatia responded with a closing clutch birdie of his own.

Obviously, I was happy to collect the cash, but I felt bad for Denny, who has to be thinking what the heck do I have to do to win at this point after 175 starts on tour. He and Bhatia finished EIGHT shots clear of third place. This was a modern-day Duel in the Sun—and the only way it could have gotten crazier was if the eclipse was involved. On the, um, bright side, McCarthy will still be at the Masters this week.

Nelly Korda: Speaking of shiny stars, this is just getting silly now. Korda won a fourth consecutive LPGA tournament, and this time she did it by making it through a match-play gauntlet. That included taking down Solheim Cup standout Leona Maguire in the final.

At this rate, she’s going to be a prime Tiger-like favorite come the first major of the year.

Lottie Woad: What a name! And what a finish! It wasn’t quite Denny McCarthy’s run, but the 20-year-old Brit who plays her college golf at Florida State birdied three of her final four holes to nip Bailey Shoemaker by a shot at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. That included this walk-off birdie on 18:

Like the Drive, Chip and Putt, the ANWA always delivers.

WE’RE SELLING

This swing: As in, I’m selling that someone who just turned 14 could have a swing this powerful:

That's just not fair. With a drive of 265 yards, she shattered the competition’s record by 13 yards. Amazing. We could be looking at the next Nelly Korda or Lottie Woad—only a much longer version. These kids are coming. Fast.

Anthony Kim’s claims: Look, I’m rooting for the guy—although, his 76-81-80 to finish DFL at Doral was brutal—and the whole mysterious hermit angle is a cool part of his comeback, but this is getting to be too much. First, it was Kim claiming he didn’t know how to use a Trackman. OK, maybe. But having no clue that Brooks Koepka won back-to-back majors and only being “vaguely” aware that Tiger freaking Woods won the freaking Masters in 2019? I’m sorry, I can’t buy that.

Getting hustled: With all the great Masters preview content, Adam Schupak’s terrific two-part interview with Brandel Chamblee got a little lost in the shuffle. But I especially enjoyed the Golf Channel analyst admitting to getting hustled by an elderly man when he was a hotshot junior golfer. The bottom line? As Brandel's dad wisely told him, "There’s always somebody better. If a guy comes to you with a game and proposes a game, he’s thought about this game more than you. He knows his game. I’m just going to tell you you’re going to get your ass beat."

ON TAP

Happy MASTERS week, everyone! I’m ecstatic to once again be going, but I’m also exhausted thanks to the NCAA starting the men’s basketball championship game so late. That needs to change. OR, I guess I could avoid leaving my house at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday every year. OR, I guess I could simply not watch the whole game like a couple years ago when I went to bed at halftime thinking UNC had won the title against Kansas. Whoops. Anyway, I won’t let the lack of sleep or my rehabbed right knee stop me from enjoying Augusta National. In fact, I’m going to once again enter the Masters Monday media lottery in hopes that I make my season debut on the historic track. Fingers crossed! And fingers crossed we get great Sunday leaderboard that produces ratings similar to my girl Caitlin Clark. Hey, we can dream, right?

Random tournament fact: Back in 1973, a standout Stanford sophomore named Bruce Robertson was stripped of his amateur status by the USGA just days before he was supposed to play in the tournament. Robertson was forced to withdraw, and he never made it back to Augusta. More than a half century later I tracked him down to tell the full story. Please check it out. And keep your fingers crossed that Bruce wins the Masters ticket lottery one of these days so he can finally make that trip to Augusta National. Shout-out Bill Specht for creating this cool montage:

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RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK

—This week’s runner-up will birdie the final seven holes: 1,000-to-1 odds

—I will win the Masters Monday media lottery: 1 MILLION-to-1 odds

—I will (re)injure myself celebrating if I do: LOCK

VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK (ON-COURSE DIVISION)

How about this tournament volunteer at the Valero Texas Open avoiding Max Homa’s tee shot, falling on his butt and making the best of it?

Seriously, give that guy an award. Well played.

VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK (OFF-COURSE DIVISION)

But not as well played as this wedding-ring chip that a pair of Korean PGA pros teamed up for during the ceremony:

Talk about clutch!

CLUB PRO GUY TWEET OF THE WEEK

THIS WEEK IN JORDAN SPIETH BEING JORDAN SPIETH

We’ve seen some wild holes from Jordan through the years, but this may have topped them all. The dude purposely hit a ball at a clubhouse and his golf ball wound up in a gutter. He hit an actual GUTTER BALL!

In other words, he’s in prime form for the Masters.

THIS WEEK IN PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION

Three years after meeting at this very event (thanks to the magic of Instagram DMs), a now engaged Akshay Bhatia and Presleigh Schultz got to celebrate their biggest win (yet) as a couple:

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Raj Mehta

Awww. Move over, Paris! San Antonio is the new City of Love! And now we’re assuming Presleigh will get to reprise her role as Akshay’s caddie at the Masters Par-3 Contest.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Wish I could have had that wedge shot back there. I backed off a couple times. There was a bug on my ball and some noise in the stands and a bug jumped back on my ball. I probably should have backed away again, but I thought I could kind of not let it distract me and maybe it did a little. Maybe a learning experience for me, but all in all I handled myself really well today.” —Denny McCarthy. A bug! And you know what? I can relate! Only in golf. Only in golf.

THIS AND THAT

Justin Thomas surprised everyone by announcing he and caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay are parting ways the week before the Masters. Might we suggest using a local caddie at Augusta National? Or maybe even a member? We know Jeff Knox is free this week. … Congrats to Dean Burmester on winning the LIV Miami event in a playoff over Sergio Garcia. Unfortunately for Dean, that still won't earn him an invite to Augusta National this week. … And, finally, a new addition at Costco is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. A DOUBLE chocolate-chip ice-cream sandwich:

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Not quite Masters Georgia peach ice cream sandwich good, but fantastic.

RANDOM QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Why does the NCAA start that championship game so late?

When’s the next solar eclipse?

Will I still be going to the Masters? (Fingers crossed to that as well.)