Bhatia Aiming to Go From National Finals to the Masters

Akshay Bhatia hits a Putt

The 22-year-old can fondly recall his experience as a 12-year-old in the first Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals 10 years ago.

This weekend, Akshay Bhatia has Augusta on his mind, but not for the singular focus of being on the brink of playing in his first Masters Tournament. He has a history at the Augusta National Golf Club that would come into play unlike any previous participant.

The 22-year-old can fondly recall his experience as a 12-year-old in the first Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals 10 years ago. His 2014 group of 88 players was the first wave of 721 participants, including this year, who have come to Augusta early on the Sunday before Masters week to display their youthful approach with a driver, wedge and putter. Of that first group, Bhatia and Alexa Pano became the first finalists to win on the PGA Tour and LPGA, respectively, within a one-month period last summer.

Of the decade-long list, 15 have played in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, including four who reached this year’s final round on Saturday. Also, more than 170 – and counting – NCAA golf programs have had former DCPers either play or commit to play golf at their schools.

“It’s everything you dream of as a kid. Being the first to play in the inaugural was unbelievable,” Bhatia said one month ago at The Players Championship. “I remember being in Augusta, getting in an elevator at the hotel and John Daly was standing there. I could not believe it.”

Young Akshay Bhatia Hits a Drive
Boys 12-13 competitor Akshay Bhatia drives in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday April 6, 2014.
Young Akshay Bhatia Hits a Drive
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA - MARCH 01: Akshay Bhatia of the United States plays his shot from the eighth tee during the second round of The Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches at PGA National Resort And Spa on March 01, 2024 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
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Bhatia is riding a hot streak on the PGA Tour this spring. Last July, he won at the Barracuda Classic on the PGA Tour, his first Tour victory, but that tournament was opposite The Open Championship so Bhatia didn’t earn a Masters invitation. But that set him up for his recent play – a tie for 11th at the Houston Open last week and a current four-stroke lead entering today’s final round of the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. Should Bhatia win today, he would be the first former DCPer to drive down Magnolia Lane and into the Masters.

“It’s everything we work for is playing in those majors,” Bhatia said. “That’s one of my goals this year. I know I’ll get there one day.”

Bhatia placed sixth in the age 12-13 group a decade ago, but the result didn’t matter. Especially since he sank the final longer putt on No. 18 to complete the day.

“Making the putt on 18 that Adam (Scott) made the year before (2013) on the last green was super surreal,” Bhatia said. “And how they treated us out there, I will never take the experience for granted.”

It’s everything you dream of as a kid. Being the first to play in the inaugural was unbelievable.
Akshay Bhatia

Bhatia’s Tour experience in the three-step competition that is required at the Drive, Chip and Putt could even go a step further, he said.

“It would be sick for Tour players to try that and it might make the week a little less stressful,” Bhatia said. “It would be fun to see some of long hitters go after it. See the best chippers try to hole it.

“But the toughest is the putting. We only got a couple minutes to practice and the greens are so fast. I remember hitting a 5 footer, it went 5 feet by and just shaking my head.”

He also would relish the chance to visit with the current participants.

“Anytime something I have done and I can give back to kids, I would love to do it,” Bhatia said. “Knowing that this guy got to the PGA Tour from here. Pretty cool. So many kids look up to us players. I was like that.”

Bhatia also recalled how quickly the time passed in his early morning visit to Augusta National 10 years ago.

“When you’re a kid you don’t want it to end,” Bhatia said. “When I was finished it felt like it passed so fast.”

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