Akshay Bhatia hits his tee shot at the third hole during the final round of The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay on January 19, 2022 in Great Exuma, Bahamas. (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
GREAT EXUMA, The Bahamas, Jan 20: Akshay Bhatia, the teenaged phenomenon of Indian origin, who turns 20 in 12 days, won The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay on Wednesday. The win made him the third-youngest player to win a Korn Ferry Tour event since the Tour’s establishment in 1990.
A stunning bogey-free 7-under 65 in the final round gave Bhatia a two-stroke victory at Sandals Emerald Bay on Wednesday, and joined Australia’s former World No. 1 Jason Day and Korean star Sungjae Im as the only teenagers to win on the development circuit which is the pathway to the PGA TOUR.
Bhatia’s 14-under 274 marked the second-lowest 72-hole score in the event’s five-season history. Paul Haley II, who was second at -12 recorded his third runner-up finish and seventh top-10 in his last 35 Korn Ferry Tour starts.
Bhatia no longer has to worry about whether his number will be enough for him to play. Instead, Bhatia is turnings his sights to the fastest route to the PGA TOUR.
“I’ve just climbed the mountain slowly and slowly and slowly,” Bhatia said. “I’m just excited to play next week. I have never had a schedule. To be able to have a schedule and look forward to playing certain events… there’s all those things I get to look forward to this year.
“I would like to win three and get promoted to the PGA TOUR, so I guess that’s my goal.”
After making birdie on 17, Bhatia, who is Indian-American, closed out his win in style. With 156 yards to the pin on the par 5 18th hole, he wedged his approach to the inside of a foot to secure his first victory of his career and cement his status as one of the game’s young rising stars.
“I reflected back on (2021) U.S. Open (qualifying),” Bhatia said. “I hit a pitching wedge to like three feet, four feet, so I was just trying to do the same thing. For it to hit the flag and have a tap-in was awesome. Golf is crazy.”
Bhatia, a native Californian who plays from Wake Forest, North Carolina, produced one of three bogey-free scorecards in the final round, and one of three scores of 65 or better posted all week.
The riveting back nine, highlighted by birdies on three of the closing four holes (Nos. 15, 17, and 18), took Bhatia to 14-under par for the tournament. Bhatia began the day three strokes off the lead, but ended it two strokes ahead of runner-up finisher Paul Haley II, who played alongside him all afternoon and carded a bogey-free 4-under 68.
Bhatia’s remarkable up-and-down birdie from a sidehill lie behind a greenside bunker at the par-5 14th may have been the key moment of his round, but his field-leading 22nd birdie of the week on the 72nd hole dazzled golf fans around the world.
“I don’t know how I managed my emotions, but I did. I felt really calm. On the 15th tee, we were waiting a while, so I just sat and looked at the ocean,” Bhatia said. “This place is really calm, peaceful… the aura about this place leads into why I’m so calm.
“To play against these guys, guys who have been out here forever, past PGA TOUR winners and players, it’s just awesome,” Bhatia continued. “For me to be able to mentally and physically compete and win at one of the highest levels in golf, it’s something I’ll cherish for a while.”