Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club

The Loop

It’s junior phenom Akshay Bhatia’s first PGA Tour start and he’s already talking trash to tour pros


Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We’ve had our eye on amateur Akshay Bhatia for quite some time now. At least since we labeled him a “junior phenom” two summers ago when he melted the 72-hole scoring record at the Junior PGA Championship, the first in a series of “did he just do that?” moments that have marked the 17-year-old’s nascent competitive career. We won’t go through them all, but they include more crazy low scores, a historic repeat win thanks to an insane chip-in eagle and revelations into just what a golf geek the lanky lefty from Wake Forest, N.C, really is.

Suffice it to say, then, we’re awaiting anxiously for 2:31 p.m. on Thursday to see the 2018 AJGA boys player of the year tee it up for the first time in a PGA Tour event at the Valspar Championship, playing alongside Chase Wright and Kramer Hickok. How will the high schooler who hopes to play on the U.S. Walker Cup team later this fall and then will likely turn pro, stack up in his first face-to-face clash with the game’s best after getting a sponsor’s exemption into the event?

To whet our appetite still more, Bhatia gave us this beautiful tease of what’s to come on Tuesday at Innisbrook Resort. During a practice round at the Copperhead Course, he was paired with Jon Rahm, a former standout amateur who quickly transitioned to the PGA Tour in a fashion Bhatia can only aspire. According to Morning Report, on the second hole of their practice round, Rahm watched Bhatia hit a 3-iron off a tee, took out a 5-wood and blasted it past the youngster before offering a playful dig.

“He threw me a tee,” Bhatia recalled, “and said, ‘You might want to tee up and try to catch that ball.’ ”

Bhatia, of course, was first to play his approach shot into the hole and pulled a 4-iron. With his silky smooth swing, be managed to tuck his ball 10 feet from the flagstick. Without missing a beat, Bhatia turned to Rahm to make sure he was aware of the result.

“I told him to hit it inside of that,” Bhatia said. “And he didn’t.”

Oh my. Is that confidence or cockiness? Either way, we all in on seeing how Bhatia fares this week.

“I just have so much self-belief in what I do,” Bhatia said on Tuesday. “I mean, that’s the biggest thing in golf. I’m stepping up and performing at the level I need to perform. I feel like I have a really good plan, and I’m ready to do it.”

If you want to learn more about Bhatia, here was a podcast we did with him earlier this year.