A year after Akshay Bhatia set the all-time scoring record at the Junior PGA Championship, he found an even more dramatic way to defend his title. The 16-year-old from Wake Forest chipped in for eagle on the 18th hole to win, coming from one stroke back to win by one Friday.
Playing from the rough just off the back of the par-5 18th green at Louisville’s Valhalla Golf Club, Bhatia needed to get up and down from about 35 feet for birdie to force a playoff, but his chip trickled slowly downhill and in for the victory.
Bhatia said afterward he just wanted to make sure to get the ball on the green and give himself a putt, but he started celebrating before the ball even went in the hole.
“To make the chip was unreal,” Bhatia said. “It was one of the clutchiest moments of my career.”
Bhatia finished at 11-under for the 72-hole tournament, a third-round 65 putting him into a tie for the lead Thursday night before he won on the last shot of the tournament. Bhatia won the Junior PGA last year at 22-under-par, the tournament record, and became the first back-to-back winner in the 43 years the tournament has been held. It was Bhatia’s third win in seven starts on the junior circuit this summer, to go with a second-place finish at the U.S. Junior Amateur three weeks ago as he continues one of the best summers of any Triangle teen in a long time.
“It’s really cool because there’s a lot of history here,” Bhatia said. “A lot of great PGA moments.”
With the win, Bhatia earned an automatic spot on the U.S. team for the Junior Ryder Cup in France in September, although he would have made it on points anyway. Two other Triangle players finished in the top 10 in points, but were not among the six boys selected for the co-ed 12-player team: Wake Forest’s Grayson Wotnosky (seventh) and Raleigh’s Peter Fountain (eighth).
Next up for the world’s No. 1-ranked junior: The U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, Aug. 13-19.