They’re young and they’re relentless on the golf course, hardly wowed by the tournament or the moment.
Akshay Bhatia and Grayson Wotnosky of Wake Forest came to the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship with the goal of posting good scores, advancing through qualifying and then seeing what match play holds for them at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.
The first part, they completed well. With a best-ball score of 4-under-par 67 Sunday at Pinehurst No. 8, Bhatia and Wotnosky were at 8-under 133 and tied for third place after 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying.
The top 32 teams moved on to match play, which begins Monday at Pinehurst No. 2.
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“Our goal today was to make it to match play and that’s what we’ve done,” Bhatia said.
Bhatia is 15 and Wotnosky turned 16 this past Tuesday. They’re the second-youngest of the 128 teams that qualified for the U.S. Golf Association event and the youngest to reach match play, not that age seems to matter to the two teenagers.
“We knew we could compete out here, that as long as we played hard our game would be fine,” Wotnosky said. “That’s what we’ve done. We’ve kind of canceled out the extra noise. We just want to go out, have fun and keep doing what we’re doing.”
With the qualifying field split between the Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 8 courses, Bhatia and Wotnosky had a 4-under 66 Saturday on No. 2. Their 67 Sunday left them four shots behind Will Grimmer and Clark Engle, teammates at Ohio State whose 12-under 129 total led qualifying.
Bhatia and Wotnosky again had five birdies and a bogey in Sunday’s round at No. 8, finishing with three birdies over the last five holes. Wotnosky made some scrambling pars in the middle of the round, and Bhatia knocked in short birdie putts at the 15th and 18th holes.
“You’re able to mentally mellow out knowing you have a partner,” Bhatia said. “You can stay more level rather than putting pressure on yourself to play well.”
Bhatia and Wotnosky first met at Pinehurst five years ago, when Wotnosky was winning the Donald Ross Junior 11-and-under title at Pinehurst No. 1, and Bhatia was trying to catch him. Wotnosky topped Bhatia by a shot.
“It was like ‘Who is this guy? I really want to beat him,’ ” Wotnosky said, smiling. “We were fighting tooth and nail.”
That was then. Now close friends, the two often practice and play together at TPC Wakefield Plantation.
“We’re like brothers,” Bhatia said.
The two also have older sisters who are good golfers — Rhea Bhatia, 19, is on the golf team at Queens University in Charlotte and Haeley Wotnosky, 17, will play at Virginia as a freshman next year.
For this tournament, “Shay” Bhatia and Grayson Wotnosky are a team. They’re wearing matching outfits on the course – pink-and-white striped shirts and light blue shorts on Sunday – and said they brought enough clothes for the duration, if needed. They fist-bump a lot. They smile a lot.
“Everything out here is just learning experiences,” Bhatia said. “Already we’ve learned a lot about our games.”
And what about match play? What now?
“Not high expectations,” Bhatia said. “We’ll go out there and have fun, play as good as we have been, maybe better.”