Akshay Bhatia was considered one of the pre-tournament favorites in the 2019 U.S. Amateur golf championship.
Forget that he’s 17. Bhatia, who lives in Wake Forest, is the fifth-ranked amateur in the world and the U.S. Amateur is being played this week in Pinehurst, 90 miles from his home.
But Bhatia has some work to do after Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. A 2-over 72 on the No. 2 Course, the Pinehurst masterpiece, has him tied for 73rd.
The low 64 scorers advance to match play after two rounds of qualifying, which are being held on No. 2 and the recently renovated No. 4 course. The No. 4 course proved to be the easier of the two Monday, with the top seven scores and 15 of the top 18 being posted on No. 4.
Brandon Wu, a recent Stanford graduate who played in this year’s U.S. Open and British Open, had the day’s best score, a 5-under 65. Palmer Jackson and Trevor Werbylo each had 4-under 66s and four players had 67s.
The lowest score on the No. 2 course were 2-under 68s carded by William Walker III, Van Holmgren and Julien Sale.
Wu has had a hectic few days, teaming with Stewart Hagestad to win a gold medal for the U.S. in the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. Wu and Hagestad then took a red-eye flight to Pinehurst. Wu showed no sign of jetlag or travel fatigue but Hagestad had a 73 on No. 2.
Bhatia opened with a bogey on No. 2 and had another bogey at the par-4 fourth. He birdied the short par-4 third hole and the demanding par-3 sixth, turning even par, but did not have birdie on the back nine to offset bogeys at the par-5 10th and par-4 18th holes.
“For anyone playing at this golf course it’s going to be hard,” Bhatia told the U.S. Golf Association after the round. “You hit good shots and they turn out bad and you can hit bad shots that turn out great. You can get some messed-up shots and it’s just, you’re playing for safety. Even doing that it’s still hard to keep it on the playing surface.”
Bhatia, who was home-schooled, has announced he will not play college golf and plans to turn pro after competing on the U.S. Walker Cup team in the 2019 matches. The lefthander was the 2018 AJGA player of the year and was the runnerup in the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur.
Bhatia easily made it through U.S. Amateur qualifying last year at Pebble Beach but was knocked out in his first match. He has been pointing to the 2019 Amateur at Pinehurst.
“Oh, a hundred percent,” he told the USGA. “Playing out here at the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst is not something that you get very often. It’s just a whole lot of fun and hopefully I can make it to match play and that will be even greater.”
According to the USGA, No. 2 played to a 77.06 stroke average and No. 4 to a 73.14 stroke average.
Ryan Gerard of Raleigh, who plays golf at North Carolina, had a 72 on No. 2. Cole Hammer of Houston, the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world, had a 75 on No. 2.
The USGA also announced Monday that it would make a $100,000 donation to 25 First Tee chapters nationally that are located near USGA championship locations. The chapters include the First Tee of the Triangle and First Tee of the Sandhills.
The First Tee programs have a goal of introducing life skills and golf to young people and help grow the sport.