Akshay Bhatia didn’t spot the field any strokes at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic. You might recall that the 16-year-old lefty was penalized in April at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley for mistakenly using a rangefinder on the fourth hole of the event, but hung on to win by a stroke. Mind you, had he done so this last week at New Jersey’s Echo Lake Country Club, he still would have won fairly comfortably given the eventual outcome.
The Wake Forest, N.C., resident, a rising high school junior, raced to a head-shaking 17-under 267, beating runner-up Ryan Hall by 10 strokes. Bhatia went wire-to-wire in capturing his sixth AJGA title and continued to show off a game that can produce really, REALLY low scores.
En route to the title, Bhatia broke Echo Lake’s course record with a seven-under 64 in the second round, and was 12 under through 36 holes, breaking the tournament’s unofficial 36-hole record in relation to par of eight under (the event had previously been a match-play tournament from 1978-2016, with 36-hole stroke-play qualifying).
Bhatia made just three bogeys in the first three rounds, and with the tournament well in hand he managed to cruise to victory with a closing even-par 71.
“I really felt comfortable with my game,” Bhatia said after the third round. “And, for some reason everything seems so easy for me.”
The thing is, Echo Lake is no push over. The Donald Ross design saw only three players break par for 72 holes, Bhatia and Hall joined by J. Holland Humphries at two under. The 54-hole cut in the boys division was nine-over 222 while Bhatia stood 17-under 196. After 72 hole, Bhatia so outpaced the rest of the field that players who tied for fifth finished 18 strokes behind him. For the tournament Bhatia had 25 birdies with the next best junior, Humphries, carding 18.
Already Bhatia is the holder of an impressive junior scoring mark. Last August, he broke the PGA of America scoring record with his 22 under total to claim the Junior PGA title. He played on the inaugural U.S. Junior Presidents Cup team last fall and will likely compete for the Americans in the Junior Ryder Cup in France come September.
Bhatia ranked No. 3 on the Rolex Junior Ranking, but with the Polo victory has a good chance of taking the No. 1 spot.
Rachel Heck, the 2017 AJGA player of the year, won the girls title at Echo Lake, shooting a one-under 70 to rally from two strokes back of Erica Shepherd and win by one with a 72-hole total of four-under 280.