US teen phenom Bhatia makes debut at Valspar

MIAMI: US teen golf prodigy Akshay Bhatia made his PGA Tour debut yesterday at the Valspar Championship with plans to turn professional later this year after a groundbreaking amateur career.

The lanky 17-year-old lefthander from North Carolina starts in the last group off the 10th tee at the Innisbrook Copperhead course in Palm Harbour, Florida, thanks to a sponsor’s exemption.

Bhatia, who intends to skip college for his shot at the pro ranks, has already practiced with Spanish star Jon Rahm and chatted with top-ranked Dustin Johnson this week.

“It’s cool because I’m slowly building relationships out here and for the future,” Bhatia said in a posting on the PGA website. “It’s going to be great just to lean on them a little bit.”

A mutual friend set up his practice opportunity with Rahm, who made his jump to the pros at the ripe old age of 21 in 2016.

“I just asked him some stuff about what his experiences was when he was playing in his first PGA Tour event and just got to know him a little bit,” Bhatia said. “Hopefully in the future, I’ll be talking to him more.”

Bhatia, who wears thick-rimmed glasses, took a silver medal at last year’s Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, helped  the 2018 US  team win the Junior Ryder  Cup over Europe and won the 2017 and
2018 Boys Junior PGA Championship.

In 2017, he won by three strokes, shooting a course-record 61  and breaking the old 72-hole
tournament record by five strokes.

Last year he holed a 40-foot chip for eagle to win by a shot. – AFP