Akshay Bhatia won’t be playing at the Valspar Championship this weekend. That in no way rains on what Bhatia called “an unreal week.”
Making his PGA Tour debut at Innisbrook, the 17-year-old prodigy turned heads early in the week by stating his goal was not to make the cut but win the tournament, sprinkling in some trash talk to Jon Rahm for good measure. Though that wish didn’t come to fruition, Bhatia didn’t disappoint with rounds of 74 and 72 at the Copperhead Course.
“The first day I was definitely nervous, the first seven or eight holes I was not comfortable at all,” Bhatia said on Friday. “Throughout the day I just wasn’t comfortable, I’m just not used to the environment. Today I woke up, I didn’t have any expectations, I just knew I needed to do what I needed to do. And I started out really well, I felt like I played pretty well, I just didn’t drive the ball like I normally do and that hurts out here, especially.”
Following his three-over opening round, Bhatia was able to get to even on the tournament with three birdies in his first five holes on Friday morning. But he doubled the ninth thanks to a chunked chip and three-jack, and back-to-back bogeys on the 17th and 18th sealed his fate.
“The biggest thing I learned is I need to drive it better, really,” Bhatia said. “I hit it pretty well this week and I putted decently well, but when you’re playing from the rough or the trees it’s not very fun and that’s the hardest thing. Especially out here.”
Nevertheless, it was a performance filled with positives. He made seven birdies, ranked in the top 15 in putts per GIR and rocketed a 343-yard drive.
Bhatia, who is expected to turn professional later this year, said he intends to Monday qualify at a handful of events this spring. He also seemed to gather how to calibrate his game going forward, and what it will take to ultimately become a regular on the circuit.
“It’s awesome to play against these guys and these guys do an unreal job playing this golf course because six under’s a really good score out here,” Bhatia said. “So it’s just getting more experience out here and I’m on the right track and this start was unbelievable and to have Dustin and Sergio, Paul Casey, all these guys who played well here and had success on the PGA Tour, it’s nice and I’ve learned a lot.”