Akshay Bhatia, the top-ranked junior golfer in the country and the No. 8-ranked amateur, has made no secret that he intends to turn professional as he nears his 18th birthday next January, after hopefully competing for the U.S. Walker Cup team in September at Royal Liverpool. Anticipating the day he begins to play for pay, the Wake Forest, N.C., resident announced on Monday that he has signed with Lagardere Sports for management and marketing representation.
“I’m thrilled to take the next step in my development as a player and start preparing for my professional career,” Bhatia said in a press release. “I’ve been fortunate to have such a great experience in both junior and amateur golf, but becoming a professional has always been my dream, and I can’t wait to get started later this year.”
Bhatia’s agreement does not violate his amateur status, according to USGA rules, so long as he “does not obtain payment, compensation of any financial gain, directly or indirectly, while still an amateur.” Additionally, his agreement with Lagardere Sports must be “solely in relation to the golfer's future as a professional golfer and does not stipulate playing in certain amateur or professional events as an amateur.”
The Rules of Amateur Status also stipulate that only golfers 18 and older can enter into such agreements. There is an exception, however, in which players younger than 18 can apply for dispensation. The USGA confirmed to Golf Digest that Bhatia did reach out to the governing body seeking approval for the agreement and worked with him, his family and Lagardere on the agreement.
The ground rules for such a waiver for a golfer younger than 18 includes that the contract can be no longer than 12 months and cannot be renewed. Bhatia has said he expects to turn pro as early as after the Walker Cup in September, thus the contract would be in that prescribed time frame.
Signing into the agreement with Lagardere does effectively end Bhatia’s chances of playing college golf as it runs afoul with NCAA rules on having a relationship with a sports management company. That said, Bhatia has said repeatedly he has no intention of going to college, deciding the pro game was where he wanted to concentrate on his development.
Bhatia played in his first PGA Tour event in March after receiving a sponsor's exemption into the Valspar Championship. He missed the cut, but then Monday qualified into the Web.com Tour's RTJ Golf Trail Championship in April and made the cut.