Akshay Bhatia's rising stardom apparent even as closing struggles remain obstacle to victories



akshay bhatia 2024 rocket mortgage classic

Forget what happened two weekends ago at the 2024 Travelers Championship when Akshay Bhatia barely broke par and got run over by several players behind him. Forget the three-putt on Sunday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic that submarined what could have been the third win of an almost comically young career.

In a vacuum, those results are relevant. But when looking at the overall arc of Bhatia’s career, they matter so little that they are hardly worth recalling.

If Bhatia had won on Sunday, he would have joined Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim as the only golfers in the last 40 years to win three times before turning 23 years old. (And Bhatia is not 23 for another six months.)

Turning pro out of high school, Bhatia’s career trajectory has been even better than expected (expectations were fairly high given he had the self-belief to skip college entirely). Just look at what he’s accomplished over the last four seasons (statistics via Data Golf).

2024

10

1

1.29

2023

9

1

0.30

2022

3

1

-1.11

2021

1

0

-0.42

That’s about a stroke improvement in each of the last two years, which is remarkable. Should that somehow continue next season, Bhatia will be at the same level as McIlroy and Xander Schauffele. As it is, he’s having a similar year to guys like Sahith Theegala, Wyndham Clark, Sam Burns and Viktor Hovland. That’s heady company for anyone, even more so for somebody who was not yet 22 when the calendar year began.

Players get normalized when they’re out on the PGA Tour for a long time. It seems like Bhatia and Will Zalatoris should be the same age, but they are actually five years apart. Despite both playing on the PGA Tour for a similar stretch, Bhatia basically turned pro when Zalatoris was starring for Wake Forest. One is not better or worse than the other, but one certainly stretches the perception of time more than the other.

Bhatia’s career, at least in terms of age and time, has been more similar to Kim than it Zalatoris, Hovland or Collin Morikawa.

For Bhatia, it seems as if all of it worked out pretty well for him. Gaining two strokes on yourself over a two-year stretch is quite abnormal, and it is emblematic of someone who is learning how to play the professional game while getting acclimated to life on the PGA Tour.

And it seems like that effort might lead to a placement on the United States’ Presidents Cup team. Bhatia’s T2 finish in Detroit on Sunday moved him into 10th place in the U.S. standings. While only the top six are guaranteed a spot, it would be quite foolish to not choose a 22-year-old budding potential star for a team event that the U.S. has mostly dominated for as long as it has been played. If he’s close to making the team, Bhatia should be on it.

Bhatia was downcast after his three-putt from 32 feet on Sunday that allowed Cam Davis to win the event outright without ever having to go to a playoff. But he, too, sees the bigger picture.

“Playing good golf, doing a lot of good things,” he said of his game. “So, just kind of get ready for The Open, and hopefully I can put myself in position once again.”

While the Rocket Mortgage Classic was a tournament he probably should have won — he played the last 11 holes in 1 over == the takeaways for him from the last two weeks — and really this entire 2024 season — are immense. It’s quite possible he can push himself into even bigger and better opportunities to win later this year and throughout his career.

It would be easy to get fooled by the two victories or the 64 career starts (nearly as many as Cameron Young, who is five years older) or the inability to close.

But Bhatia is somebody who, even at 22, has proven he can win. He did so at the Texas Open this year and the Barracuda Championship last year.

For all the frustrations that could follow him to Scotland later this month, what is presently taking place in Bhatia’s career that should provide tremendous optimism.

We are watching a star develop in real time. 

It doesn’t always feel that way in the moment, especially watching him the last two Sundays, but it rarely does until one peeks in the rear-view mirror. This is what it looks like when a golfer is in the middle of their ascent.

Akshay Bhatia is on track to become great. The only question: How great?





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