Akshay Bhatia Sinks Miraculous 40-Foot Eagle Chip-In to Become First-Ever Back-to-Back Boys Junior PGA Champion
California’s Tommy Stephenson Finishes
One Shot Back at 10-Under Par
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Since 1976, there has never been a back-to-back winner in the Boys Junior PGA Championship. Well, go ahead and add yet another “never before” to Akshay Bhatia’s name.
Bhatia, 16, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, holed out a slow-moving, sidewinding 40-foot chip for eagle, from off the 18th green, at Valhalla Golf Club—to miraculously rally from one-down over runner-up Tommy Stephenson, of Carlsbad, California and clinch the 43rd Boys Junior PGA Championship on the 72nd hole.
In the process, he became the first-ever back-to-back Champion, as well as the first two-time victor. All of this in an event that has hosted the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and David Toms, to name a few members of the Who’s Who list.
Following a tee shot straight down the fairway on No. 18, Bhatia striped a 3-iron from 228-yards out to the back edge of the fringe. He angled his chip away from the hole and rode the ridge dramatically down to glory. Before the ball sank, Bhatia raised his club in celebration followed by a Tigeresque fist-pump, as the gallery roared in absolute amazement.
“To make the chip was unreal,” said Bhatia.
A bogey on Hole No. 17 left him one shot behind Stephenson, who was in the clubhouse at 10-under par and a one-shot lead.
“It was one of the ‘clutchiest’ moments of my career,” said Bhatia.
In addition, Bhatia clinched an automatic spot on the 2018 United States Junior Ryder Cup Team, which will travel to Disneyland Paris in September.
Bhatia recorded bookend chip-ins on Hole Nos. 1 (birdie) and 18 (eagle) to accentuate his round of 4-under par 68 (68-76-65-68 277), and finish at 11-under par for the Championship.
He is certainly no stranger to great theatre. Last year, he scorched the Boys Junior PGA Championship record book with the lowest round ever (61); lowest 54-hole score ever (199); and eclipsed Pat Perez’s all-time Championship record for lowest 72-hole total score—a record that stood for 24 years—by five strokes (22-under par 266).
While Bhatia’s score was more in check at Valhalla, his chip-in will live in the Championship’s lore. “It’s really cool because, there’s lot of history here and a lot of great PGA moments.”
Stephenson, 17, had himself quite a round as well, coming in with a 6-under par 66 for the day (70-71-71-66 277). His round featured consecutive chip-in birdies on Nos. 7 and 8, which fired up a see-saw leaderboard match between him and Bhatia. Stephenson carded seven birdies versus one bogey to finish at 10-under par for the Championship, including a birdie on No. 18 that nearly brought him the title.
“The ball just went in the hole,” said Stephenson, a Fresno State commit. “I putted amazingly well, and the ball just kept going in. I stayed in control.”
Kentuckian Canon Claycomb, 16, of Bowling Green, jumped up seven spots on the leaderboard with a 5-under par 67—and an 8-under par Championship total (70-74-69-67 280)—to tie for third with Alexander Yang (69-71-70-70 280), 15, of Carlsbad, California.
In a tie for fifth at 7-under par 281 were Travis Vick, 18, of Houston (69-71-71-70 281); and Luke Kluver, 18, of Norfolk, Nebraska (67-70-74-70 281).
William Moll, who was tied with Bhatia entering the final round as co-leaders finished in a three-way tie for ninth.
An Ace and An Albatross: Cole Ponich, 18, of Farmington, Utah, recorded his fourth career hole-in-one, with an ace on Hole No. 14. Pierson Hunt, 16, of Hartland, Wisconsin, carded a rare double-eagle on the par-5 7th hole.
United States Junior Ryder Cup Team: Following the Championship, the following players were named to the 2018 United States Junior Ryder Cup Team by PGA Past President and Team Captain Allen Wronowski: Akshay Bhatia, Canon Claycomb, Michael Thorbjornsen, Ricky Castillo, William Moll and Cole Ponich. They will join Yealimi Noh, Rose Zhang, Lucy Li, Rachel Heck, Erica Shepherd and Alexa Pano on the co-ed team that will compete against Europe at Disneyland Paris in September.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (November 19, 2018) – The PGA of America announced today that Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford, Connecticut, will host both the Boys and Girls Junior PGA Championships in 2019. The Girls Junior PGA Championship will be contested July 9-12, while the Boys will tee it up July 30-August 2. Each event features 144 players in a four-round, 18-hole stroke play format.
“It is a thrill for both Championships to be held in Connecticut for the first time,” said Suzy Whaley, a longtime Connecticut resident who recently became the PGA of America’s first-ever woman President, a position she assumed at the PGA Annual Meeting on November 9 in Palm Springs, California. “Both Championships continue to reach new heights each year. We are excited to partner with Keney Park, the Connecticut PGA Section and the City of Hartford to showcase the game’s brightest junior players competing at the highest level.”
Keney Park opened in 1927 with a nine-hole course designed by Devereux Emmet; the Robert “Jack” Ross-designed back-nine opened four years later. In 2014, the Connecticut PGA Section signed an agreement to serve as consultants to help Hartford regain operational ownership of Keney Park and oversee a course restoration to enhance the facility’s level of sustainability.
“This will be the maiden voyage for the Connecticut PGA Section with respect to hosting PGA of America championships, and we cannot be more excited to welcome the nation’s most talented girls and boys,” said Thomas Hantke, Executive Director of the Connecticut PGA Section. “We’re not only proud that we’ve been chosen to host these prestigious championships, but we’re equally appreciative to be able to showcase the restoration of Keney Park as part of the revitalization efforts ongoing in the City of Hartford. It has been one of the original and central purposes to re-establish a first-class golf experience to help lead the way to improving the quality of life.”
“Next summer will be exciting as local spectators will have the opportunity to see some of golf’s brightest future stars play on the Keney Park Golf Course,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “We look forward to these young competitors and their families visiting our City. Golf has a long tradition in the city of Hartford, and these two premier events will add to our story.”
Keney Park is led by PGA Director of Golf Peter Seaman, who has been on the staff since July of 2015. The golf course was recently ranked by Golfweek as the No. 2 place to play in Connecticut, as well as tied for first on Golf Inc.’s 2016 Public Renovation list.
Both Championships have been springboards for many of the PGA and LPGA Tours’ most accomplished players. Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Phil Mickelson have competed on the Boys side, while the list of past Girls Junior PGA winners includes Major Champions Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn and Lexi Thompson.
Yealimi Noh captured the 2018 Girls Junior PGA with a dominating, record-setting performance at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Kentucky, while Akshay Bhatia became the first two-time winner following his victory in the 2018 Boys Junior PGA, which was secured with a greenside chip-in eagle on the 72nd hole at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Bhatia also won in 2017. This past September, both players teamed up on the triumphant United States Team in the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup at Disneyland Paris.
Pat Kravitz, PGA of America, 561-624-8581, email@example.com
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