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Story by Chris King
What does the world’s No. 1 ranked player, Dustin Johnson, have in common with the world’s best junior golfer, Akshay Bhatia? More than you might imagine. The 17-year-old Bhatia steamrolled the field at the fourth annual Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship, shooting a tournament record 10-under par at TPC Myrtle Beach. Bhatia’s score also equaled the record for lowest 54-hole tournament score at TPC, a course that hosted the Hackler Championship, a collegiate tournament that counts Johnson and Patrick Reed among its alumni.
Beyond aspiring to join Johnson on the PGA Tour, Bhatia shares a coach, Allen Terrell, the director of instruction at the Dustin Johnson Golf School, with DJ. Terrell, who has worked with Johnson for more than 15 years and 20 PGA Tour victories, is enjoying early success with Bhatia, making his victory in Dustin Johnson World Junior all the sweeter. “To win the Dustin Johnson is great because [DJ] is a mentor of mine,” Bhatia said. “It was an amazing week. Allen does so much for me and he puts so much time toward me.”
Bhatia, who has said he will turn pro without going to college, will get a chance to test himself against the world’s players at the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship March 21-24 via a sponsor’s exemption. It’s unusual for an amateur to receive a sponsor’s exemption when the player’s doesn’t have geographic ties to the tournament (the Valspar is played just outside Tampa, Fla.), but Bhatia’s amateur career has been anything but normal. The North Carolinian has already won the Junior PGA Championship, Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, the AJGA Polo Junior Classic and the Jones Cup, and is closing in on being the top-ranked amateur in the world. The Jones Cup victory also earned Bhatia an invite to the to play in this year’s RSM Classic at Sea Island in November, meaning he will play at least two PGA Tour events this year.
Bhatia plans on turning pro after he turns 18, which will happen on Jan. 2, 2020. In the interim, he will continue to sharpen his game playing high level amateur events and attempting to Monday qualify for PGA and Web.com Tour events. In 2018, he came within a stroke of Monday qualifying at the RSM Classic and the Wyndham Championship, and he made it into a Web.com qualifier playoff, all at the age of 16. While Dustin Johnson battles to win tournaments on the PGA Tour, Bhatia, who shares a coach, an impressive amateur pedigree, and an affinity for TPC Myrtle Beach with him, will be working to join DJ on golf’s biggest stage.